Friday, 17 February 2017

World Cinema - "Sita Sings The Blues" (2008) - A review.

Fig 1.

Sita Sings The Blues” (2008) written, directed, produced and animated by Nina Paley, features multiple styles and uses of animation to tell parallel tales about the Ramayana (an epic poem which details the divine prince Rama’s rescue of his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana), including segways into comical discussions between shadow puppets, musical interludes that feature songs by Annette Hanshaw and hand drawn scenes from Paley’s own life. It’s a heady mix that - when it works - is an engaging and colourful display of the power that animation can have in allowing people to tell very personal stories without many limitations.

Fig 2.

The interesting thing to firstly consider here is that this is markedly ‘Indian’ in flavor, yet Paley herself is American and has appropriated the story of the Ramayana into an understanding of her own experiences during her stay in India. “The ingenuity of “Sita” — which evokes painting, collage, underground comic books, Mumbai musicals and “Yellow Submarine” (for starters) — is dazzling” (Scott, 2009) The not-quite-documentary that ensues is a collage of different aspects of the Ramayana. Structured like a Bollywood film, even down to the interval (present in Bollywood films largely due to how they “follow a different structure. In the first half, the characters and the plot is introduced. It is here when we are introduced with the conflict as well.” (Sharma, 2016) ). It is with this blending of myth and reality from different cultures that certainly already places the film within a problematic context, yet it’s impossible to be wholeheartedly offended by this aspect of the film, as it’s goal is pure in intent. For Sita in particular, “There are songs, bright colors and a story taken in part from one of the biggest, oldest epics in the world. But it is also modest, personal and, in spite of Ms. Paley’s use of digital vector graphic techniques, decidedly handmade.” (Scott, 2009) In the most basic sense, this animation represents a catharsis of Paley’s personal strife, viewed through an incredibly old yet relevant love story and In that way, the film succeeds.

Paley’s other work includes a selection of shorts, “Fetch” (2002), “Thank You For Not Breeding” (2002), “Dandaka Dharma” (2005)  & a short segment in “The Prophet” (2014), the common threads between the works seem to be spiritualistic, humanist and pragmatic, while Paley also showcases an eye for the psychedelic in “Sita Sings…” ; Aesthetically they share the same traits, insofar that there is an almost Gilliam-esque sensibility to proceedings, especially in Paley’s later work, in both aesthetics and a pitch dark affinity for satire.

Fig 3.

“Sita Sings the Blues” features an array of different art styles, each parallel segment having its own style, each doing it’s best to push each scene into far more interesting avenues - the shadow puppets struggling to retell the story of Rama and Sita being a highlight of the piece -  The fact that this is indeed a collage of cultural aesthetic is precisely why this film is so original; the story coiling “around and around, as Indian epic tales are known to do. Even the Indians can't always figure them out. In addition to her characters talking, Paley adds a hilarious level of narration: Three voice-over modern Indians, Desis, ad-libbing as they try to get the story straight” (Ebert, 2009). Though “Sita Sings…” has not been without its problems and detractors, copyright issues with the use of Annette Hanshaw’s music in certain scenes (that could have been cut outright, as they seem quite clunky in comparison to other scenes) aside.

Roger Ebert suggests of Nina that “There are uncanny parallels between her life and Sita's. Both were betrayed by the men they loved. Both were separated by long journeys.” (2009)  but par superficial readings of the original text, it seems as though Nina has adapted the parts that work with her own personal journey. And as functional a choice this is, it has divided the Hindu community, one blog going so far as to say that “this unjust film attempts to violently fit the great Hindu epic with its immense complexities into a mundanely depressing post-split atmosphere which thousands of Americans experience daily”. (Basu, 2009)

Whether each side can be wholly agreed upon is another question entirely, but the fact that this debate exists around the problematic nature of using cultural stories is a testament to how important stories are in our day to day lives. Regardless of the fact that this is a product of interpretation, and ultimately of Paley’s own journey after her own divorce, this showcases that artefacts of the past, however culturally important, can be made relevant and personal in the right context.


Ebert, Roger (2009) At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/sita-sings-the-blues-2009 (Accessed 17/02/17)

Basu, Saurav, (2009) At: http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=781 (Accessed 17/02/17)

Scott, A. O. (2009) At http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/25/movies/25sita.html (Accessed 17/02/17)

Sharma, Sampada (2016) At: https://www.scoopwhoop.com/Why-do-Indian-movies-have-intervals-theory/#.s3oai8ph3 (Accessed 17/02/17)


Fig 1. Sita Sings The Blues Poster [image]. At: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/PLI1WVPkpgY/maxresdefault.jpg (Accessed 17/02/17)

Fig 2. Sita crying [image]. At: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/PLI1WVPkpgY/maxresdefault.jpg (Accessed 17/02/17)

Fig 3. Shadow Puppets [image]. At: http://sitasingstheblues.com/SitaEPressKit/BhavanaSitaContaminated.jpg (Accessed 17/02/17)

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