When a tale is told to us, we often automatically choose one of the characters to sympathize with and see things strictly from their point of view. The nature of tales and legends come from norms and ideals that were and are smiled upon when they get written down. Yet such things like norms and ideals change in time. Therefore re-tellings and modernizations of old legends have become wildly popular in modern day culture. Another new way of telling a story is by mixing fact with fiction – a person may tell her or his personal tale while mixing old myth and sagas into the real life events, making a connection to experiences in real and fictional people. Nina Paley uses skillfully and stylishly these both story telling methods in her animated film, “Sita Sings the Blues”.
“Sita Sings the Blues” recounts the Indian legend of Sita, the Wife of Rama, which was written by Valmiki in his epic book “The Ramayana”. Nina Paley reboots the legend as told from Sita’s point of view and gives a fresh and humorous feminist slant to this famous tale. Sita is a devoted and loving wife who faces many hardships from her husband and Ms. Paley uses the subtle hints and hidden implications of the Ramayana to embed a simultaneously story of her own break up with her live-in and long term boyfriend Dave giving us (and her) unsullied insights to both of these folds of the world. The animation changes different styles during the film, ranking from highly detailed and elegant, to humorously cartoony, to chunkily amateurish looking.
The film portrays two relationships gone wrong in a richly funny and equally serious tone. Sita is a woman who gets the raw part of the deal. She is a love martyr, constantly putting her husband first and getting little in return. A typical example of the sacrificial behavior that for many years has been the ideal for women. Unconditional love was and is used to portray the most kind and good women in culture, like Andersson’s Mermaid in his fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” and Nancy from Charles Dickenson’s “Oliver Twist”. However, Sita does show some strength eventually (but not spoilers so I will end here, but note Spoilers below!!!!).
Nina, Ms. Paley as herself in the movie, shows similar characteristics to Sita. She wants to be supportive of her boyfriend, but he shows little concern for her feelings or needs. When he breaks up with her, she lingers on him and begs him to take her back. But like Sita, she finds inner strength to carry on and pursue her own ambitions.
“Sita Sings the Blues” depicts the importance of independence and respecting one’s self. Sita lets herself, like Nina, forget about herself to please another person. This does not end well. Even if the film focuses on “break ups” it also makes a point about any phases of relationships and situations in the world. Ms. Paley tones up how passiveness keeps people trapped. With the choice of the recurring upbeat jazz/pop (of the 20’s) songs to describe Sita’s life the film makes a powerful statement on Sita’s life and the dilemma of the feminine in history and contemporary life. Her tale is sad and tragic, full of unfairness. Sita is a tragic and badly-used heroine, and the sound of Annette Hanshaw’s Jazz style (in one of the animated “style sequences”) is the both playfully expressive and popularly depressing becoming a perfect counterpoint for telling of both tales.
The men in the film or often portrayed as the ones who abandon. The depiction of Rama is very unflattering; he thinks mainly of himself and constantly doubts for little reason. He is a victim of the masculine expectations shown in the film, such as a man must have a pure wife to keep his pride. Since he is also royalty, he is taught to view himself in a vastly elevated manner regardless of his actual actions. This is mirrored in Dave, the boyfriend of Nina, who, after getting a promotion becomes suddenly distant and aloof without course or reason. “Sita Sings the Blues” however isn’t about men being betrayers, but tries to portray men who become brainwashed by social expectations and unrealistic and overly contained notions of masculinity.
“Sita Sings the Blues” is a sophisticated, surprisingly positive film about not letting a bad relationship ruining one’s life. The film tutors and advices one to live life without hanging onto the events which constrain and limit. The simple message is – with life we can do so much good by ourselves.
Nina Paley is a strong believer that all form of culture belongs to all people, and because of this she has made it possible for anyone to watch the film for free on her site. Here is the link to the her homepage where you can watch the film, download I, or a number of options to many to recount: http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/