Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran’s His Father’s Voice centers on two families. One of them – mother Parvathi (Ashwini Pratap Pawar), father Nagarajan (P.T. Narendran), and their daughter Valli (Asha Bhola) – is Indian. The other – Clara (Julia Koch), Jon (Jeremy Roske), and their son Kris (Yam Yardeni) – is white. At the start of the film, the two families live together in a secluded music and dance school in southeast India, and they spend their days meditating, singing, and practicing an ancient form of Indian dance called Bharatanatyam.
“Jealous of the emotional bond that Parvathi and Jon share…Clara eventually decides to separate from Jon.”
If this lifestyle sounds too good to last, that’s because it is. Jealous of the emotional bond that Parvathi and Jon share – and in general just fed up with life in India – Clara eventually decides to separate from Jon. Moreover, despite his and Kris’ vehement protests, she also ends up taking Kris with her. The central events in the film’s narrative take place 12 years after these events, when a now grown-up Kris (now played by Christopher Gurusamy) returns to the school, falls in love with a grown-up Valli (now played by Sudharma Vaithiyanathan), and tries to seek closure from his parents’ separation.
On the whole, the one thing that’s irritating about His Father’s Voice is how it treats its female characters. At specific points in the narrative, the characters complain about the sexism that appears in the Ramayana, the classic epic for which they’re preparing a Bharatanatyam performance. Yet the irony of His Father’s Voice is that its female characters aren’t exactly empowering by comparison. Throughout the film, Clara, Valli, and Parvathi always play subordinate roles: they behave and change only in relation to the emotional needs of the men in their lives.
“If you’re not familiar with Indian classical music and dance, the film offers a remarkable showcase of both…”
If you can overlook that flaw – and the fact that the basic storyline proves somewhat predictable – His Father’s Voice nevertheless stands out for two reasons. The first is the atmosphere it evokes. With his reliance on long takes and gentle camera movements, Kirubhakaran creates a world that’s defined by a languorous, ever-so-slightly melancholic form of tranquility, a spiritually cleansing environment where time seems to stand still. In the moment, you might even find yourself slipping into the same state of introspection that the characters themselves experience.
The other good thing about His Father’s Voice is the dancing and music. If you’re not familiar with Indian classical music and dance, the film offers a remarkable showcase of both, and you’ll come away wanting to learn more about them. More to the point, the dancing and music also play meaningful roles in the narrative, illustrating the story’s emotional content with a grace that no amount of dialogue can match. You’ll ultimately walk away hoping that Kirubhakaran continues to make such elegant works in the future.
His Father’s Voice (2019) Directed by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran. Written by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran. Starring Christopher Gurusamy, Jeremy Roske, Sudharma Vaithiyanathan, Ashwini Pratap Pawar.
7 out of 10