Friday, 17 February 2017

World Cinema: USA & India - "Sita Sings the Blues" (2008)

Fig 1

Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” (2008) is a film rich in animation and design, and envelops the culture of India and snippets of the directors own life. 

Nina’s previous films are about 3-4 minutes long, making “Sita Sings the Blues” her first feature film to date. Other works include “Fetch” (2001) which is 2D computer animation, “Goddess of fertility” (2002) that also uses 2d computer animation as well as clay animation. Her style is a consistent show of 2D animation and mixed media, making the animations unique and closer to traditional ways of animating, as well as embracing more modern forms of animation. 

Fig 2

Sita Sings the Blues” is a film that has four styles in one, and depicts story of Rama and Sita, as well as Nina’s personal life. One style is of traditional Indian paintings that are 2D and animated, as well as uses of collages, narration by shadow puppets, musical 2D digital animated sections and a “squiggle-vison” style of the director’s part. The variety of animation makes for a unique piece of storytelling, albeit a complex story, but it is successful in the portrayal of Rama and Sita’s story. The fusion of American and Indian is clearly shown; the Indian with the styles of animation when showing Sita and Rama’s story, and USA when showing Nina’s portion.  

Fig 3

The film has four major styles and shows two main stories. The film has a light hearted and up beat way of showing its story and is fun to follow along with. The first story is of Prince Rama’s exile, at the command of his father’s favourite queen, Kaikeyi. The wife of Rama, Sita, is determined to stay with him, however the woods they travel through is filled with evil demons. The demon king, Ravana appears, and kidnaps Sita, all the while distracting Rama with a golden hind. Ravana sets a deadline for Sita to be rescued by Rama to show her dedication to him.
Fig 4

Hanuman, the monkey prince and his army arrive to help Rama find Sita, and rescue her. Her loyalty is questioned however, and is submitted to a trial to throw herself into a fire, where she is rescued by the Gods and her devotion is clearly showed. Sita soon falls pregnant but Rama isn’t sure it’s his, so he tells his brother who reluctantly leaves her in the forest, but in the later years he hears hymns of her and her child about himself (Rama). When reunited, Rama is still unsure and so Sita prays for the Earth to swallow her, as final proof of her devotion. 

The segments that show a “squiggle-vision” style are taken from the directors personal life; her partner has a 6 month contract to work in India, but after a month of no contact between each other, he calls her to say he’s got an opportunity to work there for a year, and so Nina comes to India and leaves behind her cat. When she arrives, he shows no interest in her, and when she has an opportunity for work in New York, she flies out, only to get an email from her husband saying not to come back. Her heart breaks, but finds comfort with her new cat and reading Ramayana. 

Fig 5

Roger Ebert states: “There are uncanny parallels between her life and Sita's. Both were betrayed by the men they loved. Both were separated by long journeys. Both died (Sita really, Nina symbolically) and were reborn--Sita in the form of a lotus flower, Nina in the form of an outraged woman who moves to Brooklyn, sits down at her home computer for five years and creates this film.” (Ebert, 2009). Agreeing with this, the intertwining of the two stories shows just how personal this film is to Nina, and it sweeps the viewer away into her world. 


Ebert, R. (2009) (Accessed on 17/02/2017)

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