Friday, February 17, 2012

Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues had been on my list of must-watch movies ever since I happened to chance upon its trailer on YouTube sometime last year. Recently, when my brother mentioned it, backing it with his recommendation, I finally got down to watching this animated feature film., only to regret having not seen it earlier.

Employing the technique of shadow puppetry to narrate one of the oldest epics of all times, the Ramayana, in a very colloquial, conversational, and almost irreverent, discussion mode; using a host of colorful imagery, interspersed with classical jazz music pieces by Annette Hanshaw, interluded with a contemporary parallel drawn from the director's own life, in a movie that is available for free viewing (under the Creative Commons Atttribution-Share Alike license) - Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues is a path breaking experiment in cinema in more ways than one. Read more about it here.

The mythological tragic theme of Sita - the epitome of the righteous wife, who forsakes the wealth and abundance of the palace to follow her husband (Ram) in his exile, who is kidnapped in the forest, salvaged by her supremely powerful husband, forced to undertake the test of fire (quite literally) to prove her chastity, only to be banished again when she is carrying twins, and finally given the option to come back on the condition of another agnipareeksha (test of fire), which thankfully Sita denies and commits suicide (in a way) to end her miseries. This juxtaposed with the modern comedy of marriage from the life of Nina Paley (the director) whose long standing boyfriend abandons her leaving her high and dry, to fend for herself. What is very vividly brought out is the universal and eternal quality of the story of Ramayana outside of its religious context.

There are several other themes, alternate discourses and even questions that run throughout the narrative, quite evidently, though perhaps a little subtly:

  • If Ram's father, Dasratha was the just and fair king he was known to be, how come he was unfair to his own son for the sake of a vow given to one of his queens.
  • Was Ravana really the huge, ugly monster/villain he has been now made out to be? Apparently, the only great character flaw he ever had was he was smitten by another man's wife (Sita) - and that has been his only mistake. He was infact very well read and well endowed (by the gods).
  • Why did Sita not leave Lanka with Hanuman when he first came to see her - in a sense the whole purpose of the historic war was to establish Ram's supremacy and omnipotence. If she had just escaped with Hanuman - it wouldn't have been much of an ego boosting exercise...or did Sita feel so outraged at her abduction that she wanted her man to come and rescue her in full glory with an epic scale war that killed way too many people; or maybe she never completely trusted Hanuman. Who knows?
  • When Sita had already 'passed' in her test of fire (not considering for the moment how wrong Ram was in demanding it in the first place), why did he again abandon her because what a washerman said. Heavy rests the head that wears the crown? The just king versus the husband dilemma? Was that a difficult choice? Why is it so important that the leader be trusted by the wrong guys too? Is that good leadership? Even a four year old understands that "that was not fair of Ram' - Read about it here. Why is Ram then still considered an ideal man?
So, what may be the saving grace of Ramayana (or maybe not)? Finally, Sita did not forsake her self respect to return to the man who had doubted her inspite of her being with him in the most lowly of circumstances (the exile). She asked Mother Earth to take her (that is suicide) - and that final sacrifice pins her as the idol for all womanhood for all times to come. Why? Because so many believe that she silently did all that was told to her by her husband, thus upholding the true virtue of a wife? Perhaps not! On the contrary, I believe, that was her way of showing her disappointment in Ram. She resorted to means that were socially acceptable in those times. Today, if your husband does not trusts you (asks you for DNA tests for your children - wouldn't that be modern day agnipareeksha?), you might not want to return to him, but you wouldn't commit suicide - you could leave the house, start afresh somewhere else - society has grown to accept divorces and marital separations (the taboos exist but there is a real choice) - Sita did not have that option!

Coming back to the movie, it does not score a perfect 10 - when you see something that is good, you become greedy and also see the potential of what all could have beeen better. However, Sita Sings the Blues is a MUST WATCH. 82 minutes of a lot of sense, fantastic story telling, imagery and a whole load of food for thought - all this available for free on the Internet. You wouldn't get a better deal.

[Image Source: Google Images]


  1. Not being a movie-goer (I did like the Godfather!) I could never judge 1-10. However, I went into this one about 10 minutes (more!) and it SURE IS DIFFERENT from what I think of as cinema.

    And, Kavita, I can tell you, I'm going BACK to view more, over the weekend. Thank for opening up new worlds to explore--in your unusual fashion.


  2. Ah.. I need to watch this now. I loved the post movie questioning.. about the epic characters. I have similar questions on my mind and I somehow have given up understanding the why and what of the Hindu Mythology.

  3. I just watched the movie last night! Apart from the huge coincidence of reading your blog today, my thoughts totally echo yours.
    I absolutely LOVED the movie and think everyone must watch it. You have written in brilliantly so instead of writing a post about it i am going to link yours to my links I like this week and Share your post on twitter.

    Thanks for this.

  4. so many questions.. that why it is called Mythology .. because it may not be all true, we dont know. You have asked so many questions which are very valid, Thats why we indians specially have been taken for a ride all this while always in the name of religion.

    No one asked the questions and whosoever asked was banished or killed etc..

    There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. they will remain unanswered as always.
    I better shutup before i dig my own grave ..


    1. Yeah, my friends wud often tell me to watch out for the saffron brigade considering my irreverent views on mythology :)

  5. Here are some answers for the questions you have answered. Most of these are just my point of view or opinion.

    1. Dashrath was never agreeing to exile Ram. But Ram pushed for it as he thought that if his father's vow is broken it would bring in a very big misfortune for the entire empire. So he may have decided to do the sacrifice for the better of the whole nation

    2. No. Certainly Ravan is not a monster as depicted by the media. They do it for getting more viewers and nothing more. Both Valmiki Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana depict Ravan as a better ruler than Ram in every aspect! If not, how would he have been bestowed the title "Ravaneshwar"? The only mistake (and a real big one) Ravan did was to abduct other man's wife. This led to his downfall. Even after Ram killed Ravana in the battle, he had to perform the ashvametha Yaga to wash away to sin he has caused by killing a very highly learned and religious God fearing Brahmin. Thanks to Ram's Yaga, we have a wonderful temple at Rameshwaram.

    3. As you mentioned Sita could have left with Hanuman. The reason for not leaving with him could have been many, but starting a war was certainly not one of them (again this is my opinion or point of view). Even till the last moment, Sita, Ram and his aides only wanted Ravan to apologise for his mistake. But Ravan's ego was too big to apologise. Another difference between a good man and a great man!

    4. A husband asking his wife to take agnipareeksha just because some washerman has accused his wife is definitely not right. But the washerman accused the king and the king had to prove that his country comes first and not his family! He could have very well turned a deaf ear to the washerman and nothing would have changed, but he showed that he is righteous king and was willing to take the blame and shame that he is a bad husband. Another sacrifice, afterall he loved his wife a lot and definitely would have have wanted her to go through such a pain, personally. And as another thought, if Sita had not been put to such a test, we would not have been singing her laurels for thousands of years!

    Whatever was the reason for Sita's suicide, Ram never doubted his wife, not a moment

    These are just my point of view..


    1. Wow! Appreciate you sharing your views.

  6. In true sense, this work by Nina Paley is nothing more than pseudo-intellect - at least to my Indian eyes, who have been reading 'Ramayan' since childhood and has seen the world changing over past three decades.


I appreciate you taking out the time to share your valuable opinions! They mean a lot!


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