Sita sings the blues is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. First off it’s an animated film for adults, based on Indian mythology, and is a feminist take on Sita’s predicament. It also mixes the mythology with a modern day interpretation by three unseen panelists – called shadow puppets, whose voices we hear (Aseem Chhabra, Manish Acharya and Bhavana Nagulapally). The film is set to the music of Annette Hanshaw, which I had not heard before and found charming.
I did like the film although it seemed a bit slow in parts. Paley depicts the story of the Mahabharata, from Sita’s point of view, and tries to find similarities in her and Sita’s stories. Paley, we see in the film, had a happy marriage which ended when her husband left her after moving to India for a “temporary” work assignment.
The animation in this film actually reminds me of the animation I used to see in Indian kiddie films on TV when I was a child – the undulating waves, the stilted movement. But the color palette of the film is rich and colorful, and the characters are pretty lush themselves. Sita’s animated character reminded me very strongly of Betty Boop – I think it was the wide open eyes (Sita’s are round circles), and the rather well-endowed figure with the tiny, tiny waist. Ram was a beautiful blue, all shoulders and wide chest. Very cute.
The other graphics are very beautiful too. There is a whimsical moon, a fiery yellow sun, a Valmiki who plays the violin as Sita cries a river. In fact most of the characters are jaunty and little flippant. And that’s where I think Paley would differ from a desi creator. I, with all my Indian baggage, and what with the notions of Sita as “Mata”, would not portray Sita as buxom – which she is in the film, blowing heart shaped kisses to the love of her life, Ram (and my Mom would have a fit if I did). I actually even have trouble describing her as such.
Paley’s version of the Ramayana, is her interpretation of course, but I quite liked the fact that she gives Sita a voice, and a place to vent. As Sita voices her blues in Hanshaw’s song “Am I blue”, and weeps a steady stream of tears in “Mean to me”, you feel really bad for her in her helpless state. Most desi interpretations of the Ramayana gloss over Sita’s treatment at her husband’s hands, or give us the “theory of cosmic understanding” in which Ram and Sita are the all-knowing, playing roles for the benefit of mankind. But Paley depicts Ram turning away from his wife in bed, walking all over her, and kicking her out of his life into a chariot which Lakshmana drives into the forest.
The film intersperses the story of the Ramayana with bits of Paley’s own life – it’s like two parallel tracks. While the modern day Paley story is in a sort of pulsating animation, for the Ramayana thread, she interestingly makes use of a variety of imagery – there’s the Betty Boop-style animation, the Islamic painting style animation, where Sita seems almost like NoorJahan, and the deity-style animation where Ram is the kinds you see on the God-Goddess calendars. At times, I felt that that the mix of different styles was a bit much, and the interpretive figures awkward, but for the most part this was an interesting film. A bit of a(n) (acid) trip, but interesting anyway.
This film can be watched in it’s entirety, here.