Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sita Sings The Blues (Nina Paley, 2008)

      I'm sure you have heard about the controversy surrounding this film's supposed derogatory portrayal of Hindu culture. I urge that you watch it for yourself to make a proper assessment; I'll wager that much like myself you'll find yourself so caught up in the magic of the film that your assessment will soon be discarded. And if you don't, I'm sorry to inform you that there is no therapy or medication for growing a heart or cultivating a soul. And, heart and soul this film has. I am baffled with myself for not seeing it sooner and, after doing so, I recommend you get on it right this instance. I mean, why wouldn't you? The creator, Nina Paley, is giving it away for free online. Go see it right here, right now! It's only 81 minutes.

 So? What'd I tell you? Sita Sings The Blues is a masterpiece, right? It's a mesh of several different sorts of music, animation styles, and storytelling. Where everything not handled so masterfully, this film could have been a disaster of epic proportion. But it all works, beautifully.
    Sita Sings The Blues is a modern retelling of the Ramayana and goes through several different animation styles to portray the story through the tragic character of Sita, who is rescued, rejected and banished by her husband Rama. Intersecting with Sita's story is Nina Paley's own comic version of the disintegration of her marriage. Paley uses these themes of unconditional love and rejection in a way that transcends time and place, thus connecting Paley's own tragic tale with that of Sita's. All the while, most of the soundtrack is sung by a 20s jazz singer named Annette Hanshaw, songs which are rendered through Sita's singing about being dejectedly in love. The film's themes are universal, yet Paley does not shy away from using satire to showcase the irony contained in those universal feelings.

  For example, you have three Indian shadow puppets that, throughout the tale of Sita, comment on the story with biting humor and hilarious inability to correctly recall the facts. And, you guys, this is what makes the film so successful for me. The shadow puppets carry on conversations about the story as you would if you were watching it with friends and commenting all the while. They sometimes talk at the same time and apologize for doing so; they point out certain plot holes and inconsistencies; they give their anecdotes on Sita's poor decisions and her apparent blindness for putting up with Rama's crap. Paley is poking fun at herself! 
Rama's stepmother taking care of Rama's ill father. The shadow puppets comment on it and supersede her outfit with a sexy nurse one to explain the father's subsequent devotion to her. Classic!
   This is the reason why I don't agree with people who view the film as being offensive because it satirizes Hindu culture. I think most of those critics view Paley's humor as being ethnocentric, especially given its views on Sita and her poor decisions. That is not it at all because Nina Paley is Sita, hence why she creates a parallel between her modern story and Sita's historically fictional one (or is it fictionally historical? Or neither?). The feelings contained in the film are ultimately universal; feelings that Paley herself felt in her marriage. She's poking fun at herself for being so blind and allowing love to trample her. She's poking fun at those God-forsaken feelings that affect all of us in ways that blind us to the beauty contained in the world around us.
    Even though I was vaguely familiar with the story of the Ramayana, I more than enjoyed the film. The fantastic mixture created between the 20s jazz and Indian music, the eclectic visuals, the satire, the stories, and the shadow puppets' relatable commentary all make this film cinema at its most superb.

Ludovico Rating:

5/5! This is a must-re-watch!

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely agree with you. This masterful work is mesmerizing, engaging, beautiful, surprising, delightful and sad as the blues that weave throughout it. If anything, it brings the Ramayana to us in terms that delight and entertain; but di not fail to convey the tragedy of abandonment by one we loved. This film is totally unique, and a total gem.