Sita Sings the Blues is a gorgeous ‘mixed media’ animation by Nina Paley. It breaks most animation conventions and combines 2D and 3D animation together within the same film. The film has scenes with events from the Ramayana. The Ramayana is an old Indian poem which depicts the tale of the divine prince Rama as he tries to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana.
The tale switches constantly back and forth between beautifully animated characters and almost comical discussions involving shadow puppets and hand drawn scenes from Nina’s own life. As strange as this mix sounds, it works on many levels and makes for a very interesting and engaging watch. This film is obviously Indian but Paley has managed to inject an American view into the film as well. The film is structured like a classic Bollywood film, including musical cutaways, oddly featuring the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw but Paley’s genius vision made it fit.
The comical discussions with the shadow puppets make what could be perceived as a slightly boring subject interesting, although it can get a bit confusing at times as they bicker amongst themselves about some of the finer details.
It coils around and around, as Indian epic tales are known to do. Even the Indians can't always figure them out. In addition to her characters talking, Paley adds a hilarious level of narration: Three voice-over modern Indians, Desis, ad-libbing as they try to get the story straight. Was Sita wearing jewelry or not? How long was she a prisoner in exile? How did the rescue monkey come into the picture? These voices are as funny as an SNL skit, and the Indian accent gives them charm: "What a challenge, these stories! (Roger Ebert, 2009)
The bright colours and blending of myth and reality including different cultures make for an eye opening watch. The structure of the film itself is confusing to say the least and can leave the viewers either intrigued by what they saw, or very confused, sometimes both. Paley singlehandedly animated the majority of the film which is a breathtaking achievement in itself. She did receive some support from Jake Friedman.
Paley’s animation of The Ramayana is done in three primary styles. One uses images that look like picture book cut outs of the characters and a trio of Indonesian shadow puppets (Aseem Chhabra, Bhavana Nagulapally and Manish Acharya), who represent characters having a debate and discussion of the story and its meaning. Another uses spoken dialogue and an elegant painted style, with characters shown in profile and whose most prominent features are large, elongated eyes. Finally, Paley employs a digital-age update of traditional American Animation, think simple expressions and exaggerated anatomies – Sita has Betty Boop eyes, for example – in sections that also offer a musical commentary on the Hindu story. These segments use songs sung by ‘20s / ‘30s Jazz singer Annette Hanshaw as the voice of Sita. (Shaun Huston, 2010)
Regardless of issues within the film, it should be watched and celebrated none the less. Its a bright and vibrant method in which to learn some Indian culture but you should pay attention for the attention to detail and the hard work that has been put into creating it should be applauded and shared far and wide.