FRIDAY REVIEW

Finally, Sita speaks

A NEW WOMAN The theme of the film is the unjust treatment of women

A NEW WOMAN The theme of the film is the unjust treatment of women  



Sita Sings the Blues is an animated film that broadly has Valmiki’s Ramayana as its premise, but its creative rendition from Sita’s perspective



Among the many versions of Ramayana that have thrived in communities across Asia is one called the “Phra Lak Phra Lam” popular in the south-east Asian country of Laos. In this version, Ravana is called Raphanasuan, and he has a much more dominant personality than that of Lam (or Rama). The son of Lam is Hullaman (or Hanuman) who assumes a human form at the end of the story. If this sounds strange, wait till you watch the latest retelling of the Ramayana. “Sita Sings the Blues” is an animated film that broadly has Valmiki’s Ramayana as its premise, but its creative rendition from Sita’s perspective and its tongue-in-cheek irreverence might, well, annoy some people, but generally entertain while providing a completely new way to understand this most holiest of epics. With “Sita Sings the Blues” we have another version of this great epic – perhaps we can call it an American version, simply because it was made in America by an American.

At 82 minutes the film is not long at all and is thoroughly entertaining. A series of Hindu Gods dancing to trance music accompanies the beginning credits setting the tone for the rest of the film. Vishnu lounges on his bed of snakes while the many armed goddess, Lakshmi, massages his feet. (At the end of the film the roles are reversed with Vishnu massaging Lakshmi’s feet). Sita’s lip synching of jazz songs originally sung by Annette Hanshaw cleverly highlight the feelings of Sita and are also the high point of this terrific film.

The film juxtaposes the personal experience of the director, Nina Paley, who goes through a break up, with the ‘break-up’ of Rama and Sita. While the analogy is not brought out absolutely clearly, the theme of the film is the unjust treatment of women. This feminist interpretation of the Ramayana is interesting because in most readings of this sacred epic, this aspect of the story is glossed over and Sita’s altruistic behaviour is lauded as the epitome of female conduct.

One can see irreverence displayed in the casual modern day and seemingly impromptu dialogue indulged in by, strangely, three south-east Asian shadow play figures (Paley must have used these figures to demonstrate the widespread reach of the Ramayana which is routinely staged in several south-east Asian countries). A curious dialogue ensues between these three characters as they try to piece together the epic tale applying modern rational and gender-relation notions to the mythological story. The result is an irreverent but empathetic understanding of some of the characters – Sita’s and Ravana’s in particular.

The technique used in the film is of spliced narration. While there are two main narratives – one of the Ramayan and the other, briefer one, of Paley’s strained relationship – the Ramayan story itself is done using two separate animation techniques with frequent interjections by the shadow play puppets.

The website of an organisation called the Hindu Jagruti has taken strong offence to the film and there is also an online petition seeking a ban on the film that is available for free download on >www.sitasingstheblues.com. As the film gains popularity it looks like these incipient protests will only gather steam.

The film will be screened at Suchitra Film Society, April 25, 6.45 p.m.

VIKHAAR AHMED SAYEED

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