“Sita Sings the Blues” tells the tale of the epic Ramayana using three very different styles of animation in Flash technology. It is visual storytelling taken to an entirely new level. The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in 7 books and 500 cantos, and tells the story of Rama, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Thematically, the epic explores the tenets of human existence and the concept of dharma. While it is clearly a story about Rama, the film focuses on Sita, his wife. There is a strong female voice and perspective throughout this feature film.
This trailer will give you a taste of the magical animation:
Filmmaker Nina Paley keeps the story moving by interspersing these animations with commentary by three modern day characters. They pop up periodically as shadow puppets to chatter about their ideas of how or why things unfolded as they did in this epic story. These three characters represent the common voice about the Ramayana. Interestingly, they were not scripted at all! Their free flowing thoughts will make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a great conversation between some strangers in a cafe who are reminiscing. (One of the voices was that of 40 year old filmmaker, Manish Acharya, who sadly passed away today when he fell from a horse in India.)
Filmmaker Nina Paley made this incredible artistic film as a result of her own personal breakup. She was reading different variations of the Ramayana and accidentally discovered the music of Annette Hanshaw, who recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. This music spoke so deeply to her that she incorporated it into the film to accompany one of the three animation styles, using the power of Hanshaw’s lyrics to emphasize Sita’s journey.
This film is not without its own challenges – there has been outcry by what Paley describes as “fundamentalists” who criticize this interpretation of the Ramayana. They felt that the film showed too much skin and poked fun at Hindus in a derogatory manner. Paley takes this all very lightly and feels that any creative act will be open to interpretation.
This film is also unusual in that is may be screened for free, anytime! Paley believes that information should be free and wants people to be liberated in their creativity without financial limitations. What a gift to educators in these tough economic times!
“Sita Sings the Blues” is being used as an educational tool in high schools and colleges/universities to create dialogue about this epic literary piece. Here is an example of one lesson plan that uses this film.