Animated American films have largely been the in the domain of Hollywood. Their
productions are the mainstream, so that when they choose CGI animations over classic 2-D, many of us may feel that we have no choice but to sigh with nostalgia. Hand drawn films have
increasingly become a part of independent cinema, so there is hope for 2-D animation aficionados if you know what to look for. I recently came across Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley and was joyous.
Her work is an animated retelling of the Hindu epic Ramayana, shifting the focus from
the hero Prince Rama to his faithful mistreated wife. When the King of Ayodhya banishes his son from his kingdom, Sita lovingly follows her husband in exile. They live in happiness together until Ravana, the King of Lanka hears of the Sita’s beauty. He kidnaps her, causing Rama to start a war to get her back only to scorn her when he does. The film opens with an image of the goddess Lakshmi rising from waves and listening to the music of blues singer Annette Hanshaw from a phonograph. This image is a good representation of the type of fusion this film is. Lakshmi is a supreme goddess, of whom great heroines are incarnations of. She may be interpreted as a universal feminine power, and the Western music sings of relatable longings and loves. Combining Sita and Annette Hanshaw’s voice in cartoon episodes is an emotional compliment to the main storyline that is done in a style inspired by Rajput paintings. The usage of India’s luxurious artistry is continued in commentary sequences by three modern Desis who are illustrated as shadow puppets. This add libbing gives the film contemporary voices of India, conveying Paley’s respect for the story’s culture by sharing its credit.
Another story and art style is woven in parallel with Sita’s situation with a female auteurist viewpoint. Her autobiographical heartbreak is humbly expressed with simple line work hat explains how she came to feel a connection to one of the grandest myths ever told.
Sita Sings the Blues is a testament to the power of unconditional love and its continuous relevance. The art is colorfully intricate, the music is charming, the storytelling is playful and meaningful. As entertainment the film is pure delight and a lovely introduction into Hindu mythos, but most of all it is a window into the talent, creativity, and heart of a female artist who has achieved much of this greatness on her own. She is distributing her labor of love for free with sincere selflessness. I strongly advise viewing this treasure and donating if you feel her passion worthwhile.
Sita Sings the Blues is available here.