On Saturday I saw a sneak preview of Sita Sings The Blues, an animated film by Nina Paley. It was an amazing piece of work. Having seen only some of the musical clips (from waaaaay back in the day), I was not prepared for how many different animation styles she used in the film. The film uses several narrative voices to tell the Ramayana story as Paley understands it.
The film is semi-autobiographical, and the ties between events in Paley’s life and treatment of Sita at the hands of Rama in the story are what lend the film and its implicit critique of Rama their weight. The main story is narrated by three shadow puppet figures, whose lines are taken from unscripted interviews with three Indians who try to hash out how the story goes, with minor disagreements and added embellishments along the way. The figures in this part of the story are painted cutouts that reminded me of the covers of Amar Chitra Katha comic books. As the story progresses there are also a number of musical numbers animated in the style visible in the stills shown on the film’s website. This is where Sita sings the blues in the voice of Annette Hanshaw.
The part of the story that seems to have gotten under Paley’s skin is Rama’s constant second-guessing of Sita. After rescuing her from Lanka, she has to prove her purity, and then after overhearing the dhobi beating his wife, Rama has Sita banished to the forest while she is pregnant. Having tried my own hand at finding a modern critical angle on some Hindu stories, I found this film delightful. Nina Paley is trying to get enough money to print the film to 35mm — hopefully she’ll be able to do that so people can see it in theaters.