Come for the introduction to Bollywood, stay for the dancing.
That’s the selling point of “His Father’s Voice,” a Westernized “Bollywood Lite” treatment of a middling musical melodrama in that distinct Indian style.
“Voice” has the basic Bollywood elements — a plot of pure hokum, a chaste romance, lots of singing and dancing. But it’s mostly in English. And the songs have an organic, intimate and diegetic feel. They’re not big production numbers. The same goes for the dancing, which is generally performed solo, or in duets as part of rehearsals for a dance recital that tells the Ramayana, the ancient epic of the mythic Indian figures Rama and Sita.
A young man, Kris (Christopher Gurusamy) shows up at a remote Indian ashram, looking for his father. The young woman, Valli (Sudharma Vaithiyanathan) recognizes him. So does her mother (Ashwini Pratap Pawar). He brushes their warm welcome off. “I’m looking for my father.”
But his father, a Westerner named Jon, is away. And Kris is touchy about waiting for him to come back. Still, the women and their fond memories of him convince him to stay.
Kris finds himself watching this performing arts ashram debate and rehearse their planned take on the classic Indian tale, the Ramayana, written “in Sanskrit, the language of the gods!” The debate is over whether to update the sexist story and their traditional symbolic dance (India’s version of ballet, opera and Noh theater) or to give the people what they want.
The story of “His Father’s Voice” is told in three time frames — 17 years ago, when Kris and his parents Jon and Clara (Jeremy Roske and Julia Koch) settled into this life of music and contemplation, mostly at Jon’s insistence.
Jon’s a post-hippy blonde European with a little guitar, a lot of songs in his heart as he makes a sort of spiritual quest. His Indo-Austrian wife puts on a brave face, but this isn’t her idea of an exciting life.
Valli’s parents Pavarthi (Pawar) and Nagarajan (Narendran Pangathody), must be of independent means to have such a lovely place to practice their art, make music and dance.
The West meets East dynamic comes together with Jon, a hippie minstrel singer-songwriter who bends Western traditions to fit Eastern musical modes and models as he croons “I’ll fly without wings, with only truth to change my shape.”
Some of the best scenes in “His Father’s Voice” demonstrate this with jam sessions, Jon playing along to whatever rehearsal music the dancers (mainly Pawar, sometimes Pangathody and others) are mastering.
But the way to engage the film on its own terms is through the dance, stunningly disciplined stylized movement, poses and gestures, as demanding as the any the world offers.
You’ve guessed the “plot,” even though the movie takes its sweet time to get around to it. Kris is estranged from his dance, and has lost his desire to dance– almost. Something happened long ago with the parents, and you can guess that, too.
In all honesty, I found the story and the timid Valli/Kris “romance” tiresome. “His Father’s Voice” lacks the bubbly sense of fun Bollywood musicals deliver, and the performances are, almost to a one, stagey, theatrical and flat.
But the dancing dazzles as we watch the story of Rama and Sita pieced together by gestures, perfectly-struck poses and elaborately refined movement.
MPAA Rating: unrated, PG-ish.
Cast: Christopher Gurusamy, Ashwini Pratap Pawar, Sudharma Vaithiyanathan, Jeremy Roske , Julia Koch
Credits: Written and directed by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran. An Indie Rights release.
Running time: 1:45