Sita Sings The Blues (2008)

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Reviews of this masterpiece abound on the world wide web, almost universally in a chorus along the lines of: “this is a delightful and original piece of filmmaking blah blah blah…” Well, it is. I do not disagree in the slightest, which would normally mean I wouldn’t bother adding my voice to the chorus (I don’t sing that well)—but I can’t resist giving those of you who may not have seen it a glimpse of its fabulousness. And, by the way, if you haven’t seen it, there’s no excuse! The creative force behind the film, Nina Paley, is giving it away for free. You can even download a DVD version (which I prefer to watching it online).

She combines the ancient tale of The Ramayana with her own love-story-gone-sour, adding to the mix three Indonesian shadow puppets who bring a wry and witty 21st century point of view to the 3000-year-old story; and a pastiche of images, sound and animation that could be overwhelming were it not so superbly handled. Eleven songs by 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw punctuate the film, all pictured on Sita herself. The rest of the music is absolutely wonderful too, with Indian and western musicians contributing a mixture of influences.

sstb_peacockgramophone

The film is full of little details which add up to an amusing, poignant and feminist take on age-old universal issues: love, heartbreak and happiness. We meet Nina and Dave, a happily married couple living with their cat Lexi in San Francisco. Anyone who has ever owned a cat (or has friends who own cats) can relate to this:

sstb_feedme

Enter the shadow puppet Greek chorus, talking about The Ramayana and its origins and quibbling amicably over names and dates. They all agree that Rama’s exile from his father’s kingdom of Ayodhya was at the behest of one of the king’s wives, Kaikeyi, who had nursed the king back to health from an illness (thus gaining his gratitude in the form of “you can have anything you ask for”). I love the sexy nurse uniform scribbled onto her image.

sstb_nursed

Sita insists on accompanying Rama into exile, since “a woman’s place is next to her husband.” In the forest, they indulge in a little romance; at the same time Rama kills off a bunch of evil demons plaguing the holy men who reside there, all to the strains of Hanshaw’s sultry “Moanin Low.”

sstb_demons

In San Francisco, Nina sees Dave off at the airport, to a six-month work assignment in India.

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The shadow puppets now discuss the demon king Ravana, and how his only fault seems to have been that he kidnapped Sita; he was otherwise reputed to be well-educated and a faithful worshipper of “the right gods.” One of them points out that history instead has turned him into “Mogambo!”:

sstb_mogambo2

“He lives on an island also!”

In Lanka, Ravana’s sister is trying to incite him into violence against Rama. When Ravana is unmoved by the horrors inflicted in the forest on the demons, she tempts him with a description of Rama’s lovely wife instead:

sstb_lotuses

There is just So Much Goodness here.

sstb_battleoflanka

I won’t go into more detail about the story since most of you are probably familiar with it. Ms. Paley draws parallels along the way between Sita’s travails and the breakup of her own marriage; suffice it to say that the treatment is absolutely sublime. Even the mish-mash of graphic styles works beautifully when it could have easily become messy and distracting.

The shadow puppet narration is hilarious and pointed. The puppets are voiced by three Indian friends of Ms. Paley, who recorded their unscripted discussion of The Ramayana one afternoon (one of them is Manish Acharya, director of Loins of Punjab Presents). At one point the three wonder aloud why Sita didn’t leave Lanka with Hanuman when he found her, and conclude that perhaps she was a “bloodthirsty woman” with issues.

sstb_bloodthirsty

Annette Hanshaw’s songs are beautiful—I’ve never been a huge fan of jazz, but these make me want to rush out and buy some of her recordings. Sita’s sensuously animated rendition of them carry the story arc to perfection: a woman in love, a woman scorned, a woman heartbroken.

There is a mish-mash of musical styles here too, but again they work in harmony. One of my favorite songs is a sing-along with Rama’s abandoned twins, Luv and Kush, called “Rama’s Great,” which is picturized filmi-style on village women (and their cows):

sstb_ramasingalong

Rama’s ill-treatment of Sita, and Nina’s by her ex-husband Dave, are held up to well-deserved scorn, but the tone never becomes bitter or self-pitying. Acidic, maybe! but not bitter. In the end, it’s very much a film about surviving pain and finding happiness.

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It’s also interesting to read the copyright issues which she explains clearly on her site, and at her blog (links above). As much as her songs make me want more of Annette Hanshaw, Paley’s battles over licensing rights make me not want to pay the owners a dime (somewhat like Ultra!), so I’m at a bit of an impasse over it all. In any case, I am very very happy to “own” this film. You will be too.

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88 Comments to “Sita Sings The Blues (2008)”

  1. I loved reading this, Memsaab – also it was suspenseful to see where you’d go after you began with telling us about all the praise it’s received.

    Totally agree with every word, and am so happy to be reminded of details like the “Rama’s great” song — duty first, Sita last!!!

    I’m buying copies of this for everyone I know who might be in a position of wanting to teach about India and Indian culture – often people ask me for movie idea that could be useful in that way, and this one, which doesn’t even require subtitle-reading skiills, would work for age 8 up to — well, up to the oldes person you know.

    • I guess I don’t think it says as much about Indian culture as it does about things that are universal, although Sita’s devotion is very Indian :-) But it is certainly entertaining for a wide spectrum of people (I read somewhere that Hindu hardliners were offended by it—but since hardliners of all types are easily offended in general, who cares?)…

  2. I have heard nothing but good things too. But somehow, the combination of jazz and animation (my least favorite components in entertainment) has so far kept me off. Plus, I didnt pay much attention to the reviews, so I somehow got the impression that it was a jazz+animation version of Ramayana! Your review makes it sound very interesting. Love the lyrics of that “Rama’s great” number! Will get hold of this, now.

    • I am finding all sorts of people recently who dislike animation…I confess I don’t understand why. Pixar (and Disney before it) have put out some great—and very sophisticated—films, all animated! Some of my favorite things are animated (South Park). Ah well.

      In any case, I don’t much like jazz either, but there is so much here beyond that; I think you will enjoy it. Do let me know :-)

      • I have to agree with you, Greta: I think Pixar and Disney also do some great animation – but I have come across some abysmal work by lesser-known wannabes, so I tend to approach animation with trepidation. And jazz, no matter how hard I try to like it, doesn’t really turn me on…

        But after your review, I’ve added this to my list! Definitely will see.

      • O I just prefer real people to animation – not even sure why, because I love cartoons (comic book ones) a lot and have been known to watch Cartoon Network as well! And the few times I have been dragged to watch one, I actually liked the films too (Shrek for e.g.), though the last experience wasnt great (Kungfu Panda). I WILL watch this one, though!

        • dustedoff/bollyviewer: There’s nothing wrong with that!—as I said, I know lots of people who feel that way. But sometimes “cartoon” people are more real than actual “real” people, if you know what I mean :) Each to his/her own, do let me know what you think of Sita though both of you!

      • For me, movies is all about seeing
        flesh and blood people. Ergo, I find it stupid to watch “serious” animation movies. :) Tom and Jerry, Loony Tunes, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardt, etc are a different matter. :)

  3. Re: jazz – I don’t know what you dislike when you dislike jazz, but this isn’t the kind of jazz I dislike – it’s really “jazz era” music, the period of songs like “Ain’t Misbehavin,'” “Ain’t She Sweet,” and “Mean to Me.” The Chearleston/ Black Bottom/Cotton Club/Josephine Baker days.

    The songs are really torch songs – women’s laments – the image conjured if you were just listening is a nightclub, a woman in a spotlight, alone at the microphone, in a satin gown cut on the bias.

    As to Indian culture etc – to me, this movie helps you get the Ram-Sita story under your belt, which I found worthwhile. Though I spent some years studying this kind of thing (kind of!), I can never just pick up a major cultural thing, whether it’s the bible or the Kalevala, and just read it and get it.

    If somebody knows more, I imagine she could teach about how the story has been understood and pointed to in India, over time if it’s changed.

    • They are torch songs, but I get tired of even Josephine Baker pretty quickly. I LOVED “Mean to Me” though! Hilarious song :)

      The film does cover the Ram-Sita story, but in a very bare-bones kind of way, and also really only from Sita’s viewpoint (which Nina Paley readily admits). But you are right—it’s a starting point!

      • Yes, I think that’s what I mean. As noted I get most of my mythology, bible included, from heavy doses of secondary sources, including teachers, movies, novels, plays, and commentary, I’m happy to read/see the parts somebody wants to talk to me about and then only – maybe – approach the thing itself.

        This telling of the story of Sita throws a bit of light, for me who did not grow up with it, on the Raj Kapoor movie Awaara, for example.
        First part of it, establishing why Raj Kapoor’s character, son of a judge, is raised in extreme poverty.

  4. This movie is utterly brilliant from top to toe. I saw it three times in about five weeks when it came out online (once online, once at Ebertfest, and once at my local art theater) and still want to see it more. I won’t say more here just because I’d like to write it up, but I just love it and think it’s so thoughtful, empathetic, creative, and GORGEOUS.

    • I remember you writing a brief blurb about it and linking to WNET when it was first put up there. It is so worth watching on a larger screen though!!!! I too will watch it over and over.

  5. Hey Guys – The official DVD is out on Netflix and Amazon.

    Please spread the word about those and it will be tremendously helpful if you could post your reviews of the movies on these sites for others to know how much you love it.

    thanks,
    Pooja

    • Hi Pooja, thanks for letting us know that. :) I downloaded it from the film site, but am definitely on board with donating money for it to Ms. Paley—she deserves it!

  6. The song “Rama’s Great” seems cute. I rather like to watch animation films, but not too sure if this one is really my cup of tea. Maybe, if I were a woman! Concerning animation films, I must draw attention to Yugo Saka’s Ramayana, which was very impressive. Definitely it was prepared on a much larger scale targeting a different audience. Sita Sings the Blues appears to be a low-budgeted somewhat personal diary of the filmmaker, though apparently still worthwhile (if only for the brilliantly coloured artwork).

    • It doesn’t look low-budget at all, believe me. It’s a work of art! It’s definitely Ms Paley’s story, and her “take” on the Ramayana (the parts of it that she related to), but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a “chick flick”…

      It’s got great music, animation, graphics, and best of all some wicked humor—I think most men could appreciate it :)

  7. I’m so pleased to see a review of Sita Sings the Blue on your blog, Memsaab. I LOVED the movie. It took me 3 hours to watch it, because I would stop it every 5 minutes to laugh my head off. The humor is deliciously wicked and absolutely hilarious – I completely unravelled at “Rama is Great.”:-0

    • Heh, I used the word wicked above before I saw your comment. It’s so true! I had to keep rewinding too…and the clip I included of Ravana’s sister getting stuck with “lotus” as her description of Sita made me fall off my chair: “Her hands are like…um…LOTUSES!”

      And the Rama’s Great song—sublime. I can’t get it out of my head, such a simple and catchy tune!

  8. i love this movie – even more so since i once said nice things about it and then got called a boil on the face of India’s culture or something of the kind by a righteous (and self-admittedly drunken) rightist.

    it’s fun, it’s accessible, and it personalizes religious figures – all very indian things and I think it’s great an American got to do it. and the gods clearly approved because the end result is fantastic!

    i’m so bloody mad at the hanshaw people – the estate could have gotten so much more publicity and experienced a revival of sorts, but No!
    way to ruin it.

    • Most excellent Amrita :) I cannot stand right-wingers of any type and am always happy when they get their panties in a bunch over something, especially if I had anything to do with it :)

      There’s a great review here by an Indian who talks very lucidly and beautifully about the personalization of Rama, Sita and company:

      http://dearcinema.com/sita-sings-the-blues-the-pirated-ramayana/

      (read the comments by the nut job who responded too!)…Perhaps an American (or non-Indian) had to do it, who knows? We get so attached to our own “sacred cows” as it were that sometimes it’s good to get a fresh look through other eyes. A Hindu making a film about a Biblical story in the same way would be very interesting I think (although to be honest, if I saw something described as a Biblical story told with jazz music I would probably run screaming)…

      And agree re: music publishers. *BOOOOOOO!!!!* I wonder if Annette Hanshaw herself would be very happy with them. I hope not!

      • Thanks too for this link – I’m going to go stick it up at the Bollywhat forum (link to this article of yours is already there), where the 7000 hits on this topic have included praise for some woman who claimed to be traumatized by meeting a non-Indian bookstore clerk who had a picture of Kali on the wall.

        Consider my arm linked with yours re: right-wingers.

        • The more of us the merrier (and there ARE more of US than they want us to think)…

          :-) I’ll check out the Bollywhat post! Need to see what this woman said!

          • I’ll look for what I am talking about and send you a link – it was matter of someone posting a link to something, not a member writing the thing herself – if I recall correctly I reacted to it so strongly I dropped out of the conversation for awhile.

            Though – not trying to stop you from reading the forum!!

          • 1. Somebody on Bollywhat linked to this:

            http://zooeylive.blogspot.com/2006/12/of-cultural-appropriation-and-white.html

            which I found both enraging and unreadable – I think it’s some kind of modern-intellectualized racism.

            Then – for much of this discussion, there is a lot of — well, see what you think if you can stand it.

            To take responsibility for my own rantings – I am Darshana on there.

  9. Enjoyed the review. Will catch it on DVD.

    I enjoyed the ranting of the nut job at the linked site, a lot too. :-D

    But why do you say;
    “(although to be honest, if I saw something described as a Biblical story told with jazz music I would probably run screaming)…” :-/

    • Grew up with the Bible, am sick of the Bible :)

      • Ahh! A hardliner in reverse!!!! :-D

        • I only just saw this :)…My parents, although they made us go to church every Sunday until we were old enough to put up a fight, were never the types to shove their own views down other people’s throats…so I don’t think they’d qualify as hardliners :) And certainly I was a skeptic from the very beginning so no reversals for me either! And I must confess that I’m glad that I received an education about the religion that I “come from”—I can easily and logically defend my disdain for it, and don’t have to wonder what I’m missing :-)

          • I meant you, not your parents. :-)

            In the sense that it is an attitude similar to the other, but in the opposite direction.
            Your ‘running away’ screaming as opposed to those who ‘come running’ screaming :-)

            It was just an observation.

          • I know you didn’t mean anything by it—I just thought I’d clarify my (lack of) religious feeling and what it stems from…I feel very lucky that my parents educated us on what was important to them, but then let us make our own choices on what to do with it.

  10. When I think of making an animated movie about the bible I don’t get very interested because I don’t find the bible so visually interesting — too much desert/brown robes/sandals — the only opportunity I can think of for good costumery is Salome, and maybe Queen Esther. Bible is much too short on jewelry, let alone sequins.

    On a more serious note, I LOVE the small ivory miniatures carved in Goa in the 17th century on Christian themes, as of course the people and the style of artistry are Indian. The ones I saw a long time ago were mostly Marys and mother-and-childs. A thing I have always loved is – one culture giving me its take on another, especially east depicting west – what is seen, how seen, the efforts to portray something new and not-yet-understood, how thought about, etc.

  11. Ok, King Solomon too.

  12. For another skeptical perspective on the Sita/Ram story, I recommend Deepa Mehta’s film Fire (1996).

    Memsaab, this brilliant review will have me watching Sita Sings the Blues in one of its many formats–and sending a contribution to Nina Paley. Many thanks.

    • Yes, I love that film. I love that whole trilogy.

      Do let me know what you think of Sita Sings The Blues :-) Would love to hear a man’s viewpoint on it!

  13. Hey Memsaab, a huge Thank you this :)) I mean this is one film I have with me for more than a year and everytime I see this, I just love it even more…may be coz of Nina, may be coz its personal, may be the music, may be the approach, may be the innovative narration, may be all of the above! Though I personally didn’t like the depiction of Ramayana in the film may be because its a one sided perception, but still love the uniquely interwoven stories.

    On a different note, have you seen Ramayana AKA Legend of Prince Ram by Nippon Films an Indo-Japanses Production??

    • Yay!!! Finally a man who has seen it! :) And an Indian man at that. Nina does take the piss out of one of the most beloved gods in the Hindu pantheon, so I can understand why some people are not happy about it. But I feel as Amrita does above—that it personalizes Ram and Sita, which is a very Indian thing, and one of the more appealing aspects of Hinduism in general :)

      • Its not because the film personalizes the ‘most beloved gods’. I am not that fond of ‘Maryada Pusrushottam Ram’ (The Most Ideal Man Ram) the image portrayed by the later days poets. Its just I prefer a well researched interpretation even if you are making it in a personalized form. Take for an example kaikeyi didn’t nursed Dashratha but helped him in a War against Demons.Contrary to t he popular believes Kaikeyi was actually a warrior princess and that’s why more closer to Dasratha and when she helped him out in that War, Dashratha promised her 3 Boons (“you can have anything you ask for”), so there are minor tweaks here and there in the original story which were kind of “Ehhh” moments for the myth lover in me…But as I said I loved the movie…

        • Actually, the three Indians voicing the shadow puppets are the ones who concluded that Kaikeyi had gotten her boon(s) from nursing Dasharatha when he was ill—not Nina Paley. And that was from an unscripted discussion the three had which Nina recorded (but didn’t interfere with). And I have read a version of the Ramayana that says the same thing—that Kaikeyi had nursed Dasharatha through a serious illness and thus he had told her she could have anything she wanted.

          And there do seem to be a lot of different versions floating around out there :) That’s what happens with story-telling I guess, especially when it’s more of an oral tradition than a written one (which is what I’ve been told—by Indians—is the case)…

          • I think the confusion has risen because of the interpretation of the words ‘looked after’.

            According to Valmiki’s Ramayana (original one) King Dasharatha was taking part in the war against asuras
            and was badly wounded by their weapons. Kakeyi then drove the king away from the battlefield while he was unconscious. And when the Asuras attacked him there too, she once again drove him away to safety.
            The ‘looking after’ here is of a different kind.

            I believe some interpretations into other languages may have interpreted the ‘looking after’ as ‘nursing’.

            Some folklores have their own interpretation too. One interesting one is;
            King Dasharatha went to get some bamboos and cut his finger on a splinter. When Kaikeyi held the tip of his finger, the king could get relief from the pain and slept peacefully.

            So I think that any war reference is definitely the one from Valmiki, and others seem to have an entirely different source for the boons.

          • The problem is, most of the Indians themselves are unaware of the fact that Ramayana was one of the first stories which was actually recorded and available in a written form. They themselves get into such ‘intellectual debates’ without knowing the base and the essence of the stories and spread their ‘uncooked’ theories.
            Ramayana was written by Valmiki in Sanskrit more than 3000 yrs ago and the story actually depicts the real Rama (you can call it personalize too) not the LORD RAMA, some extremists in India call him.

            Nina might be hanging around with ‘Ohh I am an intellectual so I can say anything about an epic and get away with it’ Indians, who themselves have no idea about the actual story which is the Valmiki Story. others have re-interpreted it in various ways but I never heard this ‘Nursing Kaikeyi Story’ ever in my life, though I have read many versions of Ramayana for my research…Now as this (the wrong) version will reach a few millions with her film, we are going to see people referring to it to base the Nursing Kaikeyi Story too.

            PS. I don’t want to offend anybody here, but I really feel sad when I see Indians themselves are so clueless about the stories from their own culture. Though I love interpretations, and as I said I loved the animated Japanese Production – The Legend of Prince Rama, even when they showed him killing Raavan with a sword not an Arrow…

            Also, if you like reading comics, I can get you a well researched comic book version of the story with brilliant illustrations.

          • @ Pacifist – I agree to what you said :)…but we are taking this ‘looked after’ too literally in some interpretations.

          • Even if the Ramayana was originally a written version I am sure that many times it has been passed on by mouth and has thus been reinterpreted or distorted or whatever…

            I would love to see an illustrated version of it, do tell me what to look for :)

          • The nursing thing might have come out of the TV serial – its been donkey’s years since i saw it but Dasharath seemed to spend a great deal of it in bed.

            Levity aside, from what I remember Kaikeyi is pretty darn kickass in the original (in a ladylike way), and actually helped him fight off the enemy in a battle when he was wounded (so maybe its a logical conclusion that she must have taken care of his wounds?).

            What I love about Sita as compared to Legend for example, is that it’s an attempt in a really long while to do something absolutely fresh with an old story rather than a simple adaptation. The “interpretations” of the Ramayana in other Indian languages for eg, are literary revisions of the Sanskrit version rather than simple translations – which is what makes them so wonderful. It’s one set of characters and circumstances, portrayed through the prisms of different cultures.

            Ashok Banker’s reboot in the fantasy genre deviates significantly from the Sanskrit version for example, but it’s just as interesting because it’s the Ramayana as presented according to the conventions of a “new” genre.

          • @ Memsaab -I have a copy of Amar Chitrakatha’s Comic Book Adaptation of Valmiki Raamcharitmanas. I think these ACKs are available abroad, if not I can order a copy for you and get it delivered to you :) I am sure you gonna love these. I have couple of very rare comic book versions of this story in CBR format too…which I can mail you and you can read them on your comp. (which I guess you aren’t very fond of).

            (You can also order for Amar Chitrakatha’s Valmiki Ramayana from their website http://www.amarchitrakatha.com/international/)

            @ Amrita – The scenes you mentioned were from Dashrath’s old age scenes and most of them after Rama went for the Vanwas. Actually Kaikeyi helped him in the war and when he was hurt mortally she took him away, which means she might have nursed him too, but Valmiki Ramayana says Dashrath granted her three wishes for helping him out in the War against Samhasura. You will be amazed to read about Kaikeyi’s character in Valmiki Ramayana, Kaikeyi (which actually wasn’t her actual name, she was called Kaikeyi as she was a princess from Kaikeya Desh, just like Seeta, who is sometimes called Vaidehi as she was the princess from Videh Desh and sometimes called Maithili for the city Mithila, which was the capital of Videh Desh) wasn’t a vamp as we see her in the mentions of Ramayana from today’s people but a very brave and intellectual lady.

          • Correction : Ref. to my comment above – Read: I have a copy of Amar Chitrakatha’s Comic Book Adaptation of Valmiki Ramayana & Tulsidas’s Raamcharitmanas.

          • Thanks toonfactory for the link :) I will check it out!

  14. Thank you for sharing.

  15. ADDed to my list

    And you Must See Miyasaki if you haven’t already..

    my favourite is My Neighbour Tottoro, altho any: Spirited Away, Princess Mononake, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Laputa Castle in the Sky, etc etc

    are lovely animation with a female always being the Hero of the story..and its mostly water-clour animation, which I is fantastic!!

  16. Then – for much of this discussion, there is a lot — well, see what you think if you can stand it.

    To take responsibility for my own rantings – I am Darshana on there.

    • I went through the link you specified. Utter nonsense, I must say! Not to be taken seriously at all. On a lighter note, that didn’t really come from some right-winger (as one would’ve liked to believe). Consider the key phrases: “grow up as non-religious as me”, “they are justifying the war by saying how Muslim women need to be rescued from Islamic patriarchy”, “a white woman who has probably internalized the racist and colonialist philosophies of her society”, “we have long been irreverent and humorous” and “this is exactly what colonialist appropriation is all about” – sounds much like blubbering of a devout left-winger! I suppose then that SSTB has been under attack from both sides, for two totally different reasons.

      • Yes, it was totally a left-wing loony rant. And the comments too. And SSTB has been under fire from both extremes…which only adds to my liking of it. Some people just have no sense of humor, or of inclusion even, and I can only feel sorry for them. The world I want to live in is one where things like art and culture can be shared and where people are generous in giving the benefit of the doubt—assuming good intentions instead of bad.

        Edited to add: And yes, what I just said there is nauseatingly goody-goody even to me…sorry :)

  17. How can I download the 4GB DVD ISO – everytime I try I get a file only 177MB in size? Any ideas?

  18. Nope no restrictions but I also don’t do torrents because my ISP chokes P2P

    • I don’t know—it downloaded for me as a 4 GB file with no trouble :( Maybe it’s all that ocean between you and the rest of civilization ;-)

      • Happily it turned out to be a problem I’ve encountered before – I had to use IE – Firefox would not show the correct size. I am downloading the 4.2G ISO as I speak. Very interesting political detour. I am passionately apolitical, but will say that as a man I find the story of Sita’s trial by fire among the most troubling of ancient myths. I actually find it repellent because I can see no way to defend it or pretend that it isn’t grossly misognystic. R.K. Narayan was similarly troubled by it, which is why he relegated the episode to a footnote of sorts in his English-language prose retelling of the Ramayana.

        The ONLY telling of Sita’s trial by fire that “makes sense” to this male is the one in Mira Nair’s “Fire”. Of course, the fire involved for me is burning jealousy that it was Shabana’s Radha that got to save the gorgeous Sita and not me!

  19. Repeating my above post here in case you miss it again, because I wouldn’t want you to misunderstand me regarding who I meant in the earlier post. I don’t want to seem disrespectful to your parents. :-)
    —————————————————————————
    I meant you, not your parents. :-)

    In the sense that it is an attitude similar to the other, but in the opposite direction.
    Your ‘running away’ screaming as opposed to those who ‘come running’ screaming :-)

    It was just an observation.

  20. @britishraj
    “I went through the link you …..SSTB has been under attack from both sides, for two totally different reasons.”

    I too read the link, and my instant reaction was that the author mentioned things like
    -“grow up as non-religious as me”, etc was more to lend credence to what she was saying.

    In short trying hard to prove she was no hardliner/fundamentalist etc. so one should read her views as coming from someone very neutral. sneeeeaky!!!
    Though those statements ‘sound leftist’ her view itself is a hardline one.

  21. I haven’t checked out any of the links discussing SSTB, so can’t speak to the comments at those sites, but I hope we’re not saying here that it’s not possible for thoughtful, rational, reasonable people to dislike, object or even be offended by SSTB? IThe condemenation is for the *tone* of the negative opinions expressed not for the negative opinion itself, right?

    In general, I get very squirmy when folks throw out labels like “right-winger”, “lefty,” “fundamentalist”, “hardliner” to discredit or dismiss the views of those they disagree with. My take is that if you need to restort to these labels to describe someone, then these terms are probably applicable to you as well!

    • Shalini, do go and read the rant that’s there. It’s extremism in any form that I label as hardline or right (and left)-wing…and what that woman has to say is very extreme—she seems to think that Paley had no right to say anything about the Ramayana unless she had studied every version of it thoroughly and cleansed her “colonialist white” mind completely. I am sure if she were ever to land here she would be thoroughly angry at the fact that I am writing about Indian movies from my ignorant white colonial perspective. I think that’s bigotry no matter what color the person spouting it is, and that’s what I’m criticizing. Valid, thoughtful reasons for disliking SSTB would naturally be welcomed :-) I don’t need people to agree with me in order to consider them rational.

  22. I’m in agreement with Memsaab, though I also like to avoid label-using, and in fact I think that’s a main thing wrong with the rant I posted the link to.

    The writer of the rant has some position about who can and can’t look at/think about/express self about/interpret/make use of/make us of part of what, and I will always reject any “criticism” of any cultural product that is made on those grounds.

    If she or he either does not like, or judges as not good, something somebody has done, that’s a different story, and then it’s her job to say so, if she wants to, in a way that either convinces or interests me. Or, at the least, that I can find readable!!

    Also just totally parenthetically, if you exclude “appropriation” from culture, you get yourself pretty efficiently to a realm of restriction of yourself and anyone else to nothing but shrieks and mating calls, don’t you?

  23. LOL I have labelled even myself – as ‘pacifist’. :-D
    Because I’m on everybody’s side and see their POV as coming from a certain school of thought. Therefore the label.

    The link, Shalini, didn’t give a review of the film but a psychological analysis of the producer of SSTB.
    The analysis involved, as Virginia has worded it and I agree;

    >”about who can and can’t look at/think about/express self about/interpret/make use of/make us of part of what, ”

    and at this link the reviewer goes on to give her reasons for ‘why’ for the above.

    This is a very hard line indeed. Therefore the label of hardliner for her. She does fall back on certain fundamental beliefs as well.

    To get back to the topic at hand – the film.
    I had earlier tried watching it online, but couldn’t do it for long as I don’t like watching films on my computer, plus, though it seemed well made I couldn’t relate to it or enjoy Sita singing English songs.
    If she sang some old hindi film songs (there are so many as we all know ;-) I might have enjoyed it.

    But I’ll see if it is better on DVD.

    • I thought while watching it how fun it would be to hear Sita singing some old Patsy Cline songs (like “I’ve Got Your Picture, She’s Got You” and “I Fall To Pieces”). Patsy had some great and hilarious songs about love and particularly about heartbreak! :)

      I don’t like watching movies on computers either :)

    • “This is a very hard line indeed. Therefore the label of hardliner for her. She does fall back on certain fundamental beliefs as well.”

      pacifist, why is it OK for blacks to call each other “nigger”, but not for whites to do the same to blacks, even if their intention is not racist? Would you think that the situation is along the same lines as “about who can and can’t look at/think about/express self about/interpret/make use of/make us of part of what” ? I’d prefer a short (and sweet) answer please, instead of an expository comment. :)

  24. Patsy Cline would be good too.

    I hate watching movies on dvd but have had to resort to it for Mad Men, as I don’t have cable and can’t wait for dvds anymore.

  25. I hate watching movies on my computer but have had to resort to it for Mad Men, as I don’t have cable and can get it on iTunes.

    And I agree about Patsy Cline’s songs for Sita, too.

    Apologies if this turns out to be a double post.

  26. toonfactory: “Ramayana was written by Valmiki in Sanskrit more than 3000 yrs ago and the story actually depicts the real Rama (you can call it personalize too) not the LORD RAMA, some extremists in India call him.

    To my understanding even Valmiki Ramayana makes it amply clear that Rama was (Lord) Vishnu’s human incarnation, born for a purpose. Thus apparently, there were definite objectives connected to Rama’s existence and his life was fast-forwarding on them. To have contented married life on Earth (and to settle here forever) must be the last thing on Vishnu’s mind (and also Laxmi aka Sita’s), and this presumably led to some errors, which provide fodder for different interpretations now (including SSTB). Basically Sita’s act was of the bait employed in catching the prime adversary (Ravana). With the adversary exterminated Rama (Vishnu) and Sita (Laxmi) must be desperately searching ways to make an exit from their human frames/lives. Fire trial was an ingenious chance for Laxmi (to leave), but the gods got emotional and spoiled it. Further desperation (aided with aimlessness and “identity crisis”) obviously resulted in more scandals and then more – the ultimate comedy of errors! As I see it ;-)

    PS: By the way, there were only 2 boons not three.

  27. Memsaab, on the question of taking offense, I have two questions.

    1. Would you get offended, or flinch, or feel embarrassed if a movie (HW or BW) you were watching showed people in blackface, and expect the same of others?

    2. Would you champion freedom of expression of certain cartoonists and their right to offend? (I can give examples, but you probably know which ones I’m talking about.)

    Bonus question after your response. :)

  28. I don’t know what you are getting at Amit (or rather I think I know), but since this is memsaab’s blog I don’t want to get into a wider discussion on this matter, plus your question really doesn’t interest me.

    I don’t even know whether blacks call each other ‘nigger’ or not. I don’t live there.
    Maybe it is ‘in the family’ sort of issue for them. You can talk to them and find out.

    There are a lot of things happening in the world which are debatable, and I think to start doing that here is not at all practical nor is it the place. I’m here to discuss films – ‘old’ ones preferably ;-)

  29. Have just finished seeing this movie and have re-read your review.
    The movie itself is just superbly made (full marks to Nina Paley). I found it very entertaining – all aspects of it. The three narrators and their narrations were hilarious (e.g. “don’t challenge the story” when they discuss how Sita managed to drop jewels along the way when apparently she had left Ayodha without any jewellery :-) ).

    And reading your review AFTER seeing the movie just enhances the whole experience. :-)

    And to think I had not even heard of this movie before reading about it here on your blog.

    So thank you Nina for a fantastic movie.
    And thank you Greta for a wonderful review. :-)

    • Oh yay!!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and came back to say so! :-) The shadow puppets were my favorite part, but really the whole thing was awesome. I’m sure I could watch it over again and get more out of it every time.

    • @ raja,

      I think ‘jewelry’ and ‘ornaments’ are often used interchangbly in translation, and that leads to misinterpretations. Sita and Rama would still have ornaments even if they don’t have jewels.

      It is glaringly obvious to any visitor to India that even the poorest would have some ornaments, such as beads, on them.
      Even sages/sanyasis have beads on them too.

  30. Dear Memsaab,

    I finally trusted your judgement enough to watch the movie. It is really a fun and amazing one if I leave behind being pendantic about mythology.

    I enjoyed it and it was kind of unintentionally hilarious in certain places. I don’t think the shadow puppets have any good grasp of original other than what they watched in regular TV shows/movies interpretation of Ramayana. That might make some ‘purists’ uncomfortable.

    Two things that stood out for me (apart from ‘several’ interpretations of Ramayana thing),

    1. Bhavana (Lady puppet) says Ravana played Veena with his intestines. I think she might have watched old telugu movie ‘Sri SeethaRama Kalyanam’ (1961) where N.T. RamaRao interpreted Ravana as virtuous but arrogant king. In that, he pulls out his intestines and uses them as strings to play music (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7yLmE6eOUs at 2.22mark). It is hilarious for me to watch “intestines playing veena” as the interpretation of “he plays veena with his intestines”. ( I assume Bhavana is Telugu based on her last name).

    2. Also I think Bhavana says “Pushpaka vimanam” was the flying object and was also a silent movie. The director interpreted it as an old movie (shown with old film), when in fact it is a recent movie (1988) by Kamal Hassan. (The movie is hilarious btw, kind of comedy of errors thing).

    As an emotional tale of heart break, ‘Sita sings the blues’ is amazing and well made. Absolutely loved all those different styles. But couple of things make me uncomfortable,

    1) The people discussing Ramayana seem to have below average understanding of the story (they struggle with getting even the names right). But, they are kind of implied to be ‘native’ representation.

    2) Even if the story was about Sita’s heartbreak, I felt Rama was short-shifted. Even after he sends away Sita, he never remarries or goes after other girls. Especially, when he had everyone’s approval to do it (his dad had three!). So, there is some love in his heart and it isn’t fair to show that Rama was kicking pregnant Sita out of fun or suspicion.

    I wish I was with those three narrators :). The guys ganged up on poor gal that Sita has her own issues to love Rama so much. (Sita’s jewelry, Ravana’s character, Shoorpanaka’s incitement, Sita’s ‘blood-thirsty-ness’,etc)

    I have so much to say but then, this is not the place anyway. But, thank you for your review that I finally overcame my reluctance (what with all ‘meta’ discussion and so on).

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