"Say you're glad you you met me.
It will be so soon that you quite forget me.
This I'll impart to you.
I give me heart to you forever.
You wouldn't fool me, would you?"-Annette Hanshaw
The poster for Nina Paley's indie animated film, Sita Sings The Blues, describes it as "the greatest break-up story ever told." Now while every girl I know, probably thinks she holds the title for that, this delightful movie may take the cake. Paley's feature uses several animation styles to present two parallel stories of great heartbreak. One is that of Sita's (Rama's wife from the Hindu epic, The Ramayana). For those familiar with the Sanskrit tale, you will be surprised to see an almost Betty Boop inspired Sita, singing and dancing to the recordings of 1920's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw. For those of you familiar with Sita's story and those of who aren't, it goes a bit like this according to the film. Girl marries boy (Rama) but is banished to the forest with him. Gets kidnapped by evil king of Sri Lanka. Finally gets won back by hubby after one very long war. Gets accused of being unfaithful. Proves her fidelity by jumping into a fire. Finally becomes queen. Rama apparently still has lingering doubts (jumping into a fire isn't enough). Gets banished to the forest (again!) Is pregnant. Gives birth to twins. Becomes a single mom. Reunites with hubby (finally!) and hands off kids. Is so distressed by all the drama...dies. Sita, who in Hinduism is the epitome of a a virtuous woman and believed to be an avatar of a goddess, most would agree, was one tough chick.
The film will be available on limited DVD release and on YouTube (part 1 of 10 is posted below) along with various downloads available online. The indie film is definitely getting some great buzz. In Roger Ebert's review, he said he was "enchanted" and "swept away" and called the film "astonishingly original". Variety says it "constitutes an irrefutable argument for classic 2-D animation"
I have heard Sita's story growing up, but what makes this feminist take on the ancient Ramayana unique, is the combination of Paley's modern autobiographical story of love lost. Paley's own husband ended their marriage abruptly after moving to India for a temporary job. Paley's cartoon version of herself is devastated and in her despair finds comfort in the reading about Sita. (The animation for the modern story contrasts other parts of the film by using Squigglevision animation (line drawings).) The parallels in Paley's story and that of Sita are cleverly drawn and any modern woman can relate. Variety probably put it best in their review by saying Paley is "finding dubious solace in the thought that the same double-standards and stacked sexual politics that plague women today are ingrained in the very fabric of ancient folklore, Paley sustains a consistently funny, sometimes, even self-deprecatory comic tone."
image source: sitasingstheblues.com; video source: youtube.com