After hearing about it on and off for the past 5 years, I finally found myself watching “Sita Sings The Blues” .
This animated film by Nina Paley is the most refreshing explosion of kitsch and story telling styles I have seen in a very long time. Sita Sings The Blues is the story of the Ramayan, told from the point of view of Sita, interspersed with a parallel story from the life of the filmmaker and of course, the strains of blues singer Anette Hanshaw. It is feminist (as MUST all things that are about females be described), romantic and in spite of the melancholic story, a general uplifting film.
Sita Sings the Blues is a heady mix of several animation styles. Paley allows the content source, the Ramayan to become the form. From the use of shadow puppets (voiced very animatedly by movie critic Aseem Chabbra, the prematurely-deceased director of the cult Loins Of Punjab Presents Monish Acharya, and Bhavna Nagulapuuly), to some of the sequences that feature animated Rajputana paintings, Paley makes sure that even though the tone of the film may be funny and slightly flippant, it is still respectful and aware of the scope of the story it is telling.
A lot of scenes are also done in what reminds me of the Amar Chitra Katha style of art. These are the “kitschy” images that represent an Ironic India, today found on wallets and bags with brands such as Chumbak and Purple Jungle.
It was in Shashi Tharoor’s -Riot that I first read about and began to understand Sita’s role in the Ramayan.
Even when Hanuman went to meet Sita the first time to inform her of her rescue plan he offered to simply carry her back to the kingdom on his back, but Sita refused. She said she wanted Ram to come back, destroy Lanka and carry her back. She sought to glorify Ram in her rescue. Like Raj from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge-woh choron ki tarah sar chupa ke nahin jayenge.
“Seems that when he (Rama) brought his wife Sita back from Lanka and became King, the gossips in the kingdom were whispering that after so many months in Raavna’s captivity, she couldn’t possibly be chaste anymore. So to stop the tongues wagging,he subjected her to an agni pariksha,a public ordeal by fire, to prove her innocence. She walked through the flames unscathed. A certified pure woman.”
In spite of that, when rumors start swirling again, Ram realises that it is affecting his credibility as king. Not only is he doubting Sita here but also the legitimacy of the agni-pariksha that proved her chaste the first time. Sita, who’s pretty much had it with having to prove herself every time someone opens their mouth asks the Earth to swallow her whole.
Because a woman really is just bag of flesh suspended around a uterus. What is between her legs defines her and he owns it. Izzats of entire households lie in there.
And yet, when it comes to women’s hygiene, we are light years behind. You want the hymen when it’s convenient, yet there are no bathrooms today, young women drop out of school in 9th Std. because there are no provisions for them when they start menstruating and it is only recently that affordable sanitary napkins have entered the market. Hygienic conditions for women in this country are in a sorry state.
Let’s be honest and stop saying, “Will you marry me?,” a plain and simple “Can I have your hymen?” should get the same message across.
End personal rant.
And in spite of that, Sita, having given birth to Ram’s sons Luv and Kush in exile sings Lord Ram’s praises (I imagine at that time doing otherwise would be treason, he was the King of the empire and all)
Even from a story-telling point of view, Sita is the most “convenient” character. The story hinges on her kidnapping, rescue, agni pariksha, exile but towards the end when there seems no definite way to tie the string of her story, she exits stage left.
Sita Sings The Blues, in that sense, is not trying to prove a point. The story tells itself.
Annette Hanshaw’s songs are at home in this film. Hanshaw’s eager, plaintive voice is perfect for the Betty Boop like Sita that narrates the story certain sequences. “If you want the rainbow” from this soundtrack is one of my favorite songs.(Including the image in the poster and the one below).
And of course, intertwined in this visual medly is the story of the filmmaker herself, who undergoes a journey similar to that of Sita. That story has it’s own animation style that is rooted in reality.
What’s best is that Nina Paley has made the film accessible free of cost under the Creative Commons Licence, here of course and on youtube. If not for the talking points, then for the myriad visual styles, there’s very little reason to NOT watch “Sita Sings The Blues.”