Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues

A couple of years ago, I started reading Ashok K. Banker's Prince of Ayodhya. I couldn't finish the book for various reasons, not least of which was that I did not like it. But I remember the introduction Banker had written to the book, which spoke about how there are many, many versions of the Ramayan, and its silly to uphold one version as canonical over others. Furthermore, we do not have an original written copy of Valmiki's Ramayan and surely much of the story has changed as the story was passed from generation to generation through spoken retellings*. In such a situation, it is a little silly to say that a particular version of the story is wrong and promote, instead, another version of the story that might differ from what actually happened. It is a little like dissing 300 for its un-historic depiction of the Spartans and praising instead The 300 Spartans where the "Persians" have blond beards and the "Spartans" are clearly wearing Roman legionary armour (as a friend of mine once did). But I digress. Basically, Mr. Banker basically said that there is no reason for our epics** not to be retold in a more modern way. It is not necessarily disrespectful*** to the epic to come up with a new version where the characters behave a little more like modern people. And I totally agree with him. It would be cool to have a version of the Ramayan where we can identify a little better with the characters, where they speak our language, so to speak.

Well, while I agreed with Mr. Banker's sentiment, I just didn't like his story. It is true that I did not give it enough of a chance, and perhaps I should have at least read the first book through. And perhaps, some time in the murky future, I will (yay NYPL!). But what reading the introduction and first half of that book did to me was leave me wanting a modern, non-bowdlerised**** version of this quite frankly amazing story.

Which sort of brings me to what this post is all about. Sita Sings the Blues is an animated film based on the Ramayan, from the point of view of Sita. SStB is the work of Nina Paley, an American animator, who made this amazing full-length movie single-handedly over the course of five years, working from her personal computer.

(The Trailer for Sita Sings the Blues)

The film tells the story of Sita using Flash animation alongside several other animation techniques, including rotoscoping (which I personally find very cool). There are song sequences set to songs by the 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw (copyright problems due to the inclusion of the songs have so far kept the movie from a commercial release, but the movie just would not be the same without them). The film has a hilarious narration by three Indonesian shadow puppets, who tell the story of the Ramayan, and illustrate the various (sometimes conflicting) versions that many Indians grow up with. It has segments that tell the story of Nina Paley's break up with her husband, and how it perhaps parallels Sita's abandonment by her husband. It has perhaps the coolest Hanuman in the history of animated Hanumans.

There is, in fact, no reason not to watch this movie. Unless you're one of those uncool people who thinks that any non-Ramanand Sagar/Amar Chitra Katha version of the Ramayan is disrespectful, or that it is "against Indian culture" for an American to make a movie about a great Indian epic. In fact, Pramod Muthalik would be very happy if you did not watch this movie. You wouldn't want to make Pramod Muthalik happy, would you? Then watch the movie.

Sita Sings the Blues can watched online here. If you're living in New York, you can watch it on WNET/NY Channel 13 on the 7th of March at 10:45 pm. Unfortunately, due to copyright issues, these are currently the only ways of watching the movie.

* As Neha Vishwanathan once wisely put it, it is "incredible how [Indians] managed to
reproduce so much despite our oral tradition".

** I detest, detest, the use of the term "mythology" to describe the stories of the Hindu Gods and works such as the Ramayan and Mahabharat.

*** Doubtless it is possible to write a disrespectful version of the Ramayan; I remember several bawdy jokes based on Ram and Sita that my friends made while we were at school.

**** I'm looking at you,
Amar Chitra Katha!



Anonymous KT said...

either the link keeps stopping in between or my connection has slowed down for unknown reasons. i have had 3 false starts to the movie so far because of the sudden stoppages and i haven't gone beyond 15mins into the movie. damn.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Kunal said...

Its working for me. There are a lot of complaints about it not working for some people though, so you might want to check back later.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Hawkeye said...

Loved the trailer! Am attempting to watch the movie online
Its uber-uber disrespectful by Amar Chitra Katha standards! Hahahaha! A voluptuous Sita is about as blasphemously disrespectful as it could possibly get!

12:34 AM  
Blogger Mihir said...

Hilarious promo... will watch it for sure.

I suggest we also consider delivering a DVD wrapped in pink chaddis to Mr. Muthalik :P

8:23 AM  

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