Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues

Infobox Film
name = Sita Sings the Blues

caption = Poster for Sita Sings the Blues
director = Nina Paley
producer = Nina Paley
writer = Nina Paley
starring = Manish Acharya
Aseem Chhabra
Deepti Gupta
Sanjiv Jhaveri
Pooja Kumar
Bhavana Nagulapally
Debargo Sanyal
Reena Shah
Aladdin Ullah
music = Annette Hanshaw et al
released = February 11, 2008
runtime = 82 min.
country = United States
language = English
amg_id = 1:389241
imdb_id = 1172203

"Sita Sings the Blues" is a feature-length animation by American artist Nina Paley.

It intersperses events from an episode of the Ramayana, illustrated conversation between Indian 'shadow puppets', musical interludes voiced with tracks by Annette Hanshaw and scenes from the artist's own life. The ancient mythological and modern biographical plot are parallel tales, sharing numerous themes.


The Ramayana

The film uses a pared-down adaptation of the myth that retains many of its finer details whilst orientating itself on a sympathetic perspective towards Sita; in the director's words, the film is 'a tale of truth, justice and a woman’s cry for equal treatment'Director Nina Paley's [ long synopsis] from the press section at [] , retrieved May 4, 2008] .

The plot joins the myth at the exile of prince Rama from his father's court, at the behest of his father's favourite queen, Kaikeyi. Having earned the right to any single favour by saving the king's life, Kaikeyi attempts to secure her own son's inheritance over the eldest and favourite, Rama, by ordering him banished from the court. Sita determines to accompany her beloved husband, although the woods are dangerous and over-run with demons and evil spirits. The demon king Ravana, encouraged by his spiteful ogress sister, hears of Sita's beauty and determines to kidnap her. He sends a golden hind past their dwelling to distract Rama, who tries to impress Sita by hunting the hind into the woods. In his absence, Ravana abducts Sita and demands that she submit to him on pain of death. Sita remains staunchly devoted to Rama and refuses to entertain the idea; Ravana sets a deadline for the ultimatum and Sita waits faithfully for Rama to rescue her.

Aided by the monkey prince Hanuman, Rama eventually discovers Sita's location and brings the monkey army to assist in her rescue. Ravana is slain and Sita restored to her husband, although he expresses serious doubts concerning her fidelity during her confinement. She submits to a trial by fire, a test of her purity; upon throwing herself into the flames, she is immediately rescued by the gods, who all proclaim her devotion and fidelity.

She accompanies Rama back to the palace, and soon falls pregnant. Lingering doubts still play on Rama's mind, however, and after overhearing one of his subjects beating and ejecting an unfaithful consort, he orders his reluctant brother Lakshman to abandon Sita in the forest. In the company of ascetics she gives birth to her sons and raises them to love and praise their absent father. Years later, Rama overheards their hymns of adoration to their father and locates their dwelling. Distressed and disappointed by her reunion with Rama, Sita prays to the earth to swallow her as final proof of her purity and devotion and the prayer is duly answered, despite the pleas of Rama and Lakshman.

Contemporary Parallel

In an episode taken from the director's own lifeDirector Nina Paley's [ long synopsis] from the press section at [] , retrieved May 4, 2008] , animator Nina Paley starts the film living happily in a San Francisco apartment with her husband and cat. Her husband then accepts the offer of a six-month contract working in Trivandrum, India and moves there alone to take up the position. After several months of very little contact, he finally calls Nina to inform her that the contract has been extended.

Bewildered by his callous indifference to their separation, Nina takes the initiative to sublet their apartment, leave their beloved cat with their new tenants and join her husband in India. Upon her arrival he appears deeply unenthusiastic to be reunited with her and demonstrates neither affection nor interest. A while later, Nina flies to a meeting in New York, for which her expenses and accommodation will be paid. In New York, she receives a brief e-mail from her husband telling her not to return to India, that their relationship is over. Sad and alone, she stays in New York, finding comfort in a new cat and her study of the "Ramayana".

tyle & Narrative

The film uses several different styles of animation to separate and identify the parallel narratives.

Episodes from the Ramayana

Episodes with dialogue from the Ramayana are enacted using painted figures of the characters in profile, which strongly resemble the 18th-century Indian tradition of "Rajput" painting. The "Rajput" style of brush painting was principally enacted on manuscripts and commonly employed in the telling of epics such as the "Ramayana". In the film they serve as a more traditional style of dramatic narrative, although the dialogue is frequently ironic, inappropriately modern or otherwise humorous.

The background in each scene is usually static and the poses of each character are kept minimal, with movement achieved by simply transporting the character across the screen in its set position. Speech is enacted by alternating the set pose of the face with a slightly liquified version where the jaw is lower.

The overall effect reflects the contrast between the rigid, formulaic epic and a modern interpretation of a more humanistic approach to the character's emotions.

Narration and Discourse on the Ramayana

Three silhouettes, traditional Indonesian shadow puppets, link episodes of the Ramayana with a lively, ostensibly impromptu, discussion of their personal impressions and knowledge of the epic [Modern silhouette puppetry was also employed in a similar fashion, on plain backgrounds, in the recent animation Princes et princesses by Michel Ocelot.] . They are voiced by actors speaking English with pronounced Indian accents, and provide context and commentary for the story, which has innumerate incarnations and regional variations [ Analysis of different variations of the Ramayana] from the book "Ramayana in the Arts of Asia" by Garrett Kam, published by Asia Book, Bangkok in 2000, page retrieved May 4, 2008 .] .

The voices are clearly contemporary and somewhat irreverent, unlike their visualisations, which further establishes the theme of contrast between 'ancient tragedy and modern comedy' [ Front page] of the official website,] ; Chhaya Natak shadow theatre, for example, was commonly used in retellings of the Ramayana [ PuppetIndia] feature on shadow puppetry, retrieved May 4, 2008.] .

During these sections, the ideas and contradictions raised over the course of the puppets' discussions are visualised in animated photographic compositions in the background.

Musical Episodes from the Ramayana

Episodes set to certain songs by jazz singer Annette Hanshaw are visualised, with Sita as the singing performer, using the strikingly modern technique of vector graphic animation.

The slick, bold style - driven by digital animation software - is at odds with the somewhat rustic quality of the old musical recordings but allows close synchronisation with the vocals. The smooth, repetitive, side-scrolling movement it effects assists in suspending the musical episode from the more consistent narrative plot.

Contemporary Story

The modern, more personal element to the story is narrated using the rough, energetic Squigglevision technique of traditional animation.

It conveys the kind of restlessness inherent in the story and achieves a more light-hearted, universal tone with its simple, highly-stylised renderings of character and environments.


Sita Sings the Blues was awarded the Cristal grand prix for best feature at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the "Crystal Bear - Special Mention" in the category of Best Feature Film (Generation 14plus) at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival [ Awards for Sita Sings the Blues] listed on the IMDB, retrieved 30 April, 2008] .

Footnotes & References

External links

* [ "Sita Sings the Blues" official website]
* [ "Sita Sings the Blues" at the IMDB]
* [ "Sita Sings the Blues" trailer at YouTube]

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