Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Sita Sings the Blues" (2008) - Movie Review

Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit epic has been told, retold, re-retold and imbibed in the minds of any Indian. Despite several films and stories on the books and comics, its expiry date in an Indian mind never arrives because more than a fable and moral policing document, it is an entertaining story. Purely treated as a fiction it has all the elements to fulfill a complete blockbuster. Do you need melodrama? Here ready to be bathed and drowned in the rivers of crying from Sita and immerse into the immense sentiments between Rama and his loved ones. Do you need action? Be vigilant to watch out for the bow and arrow fire works. Not satisfied, how about jumping monkeys and Hanuman as the strongest entity on the universe who kick Transformer’s butt out of this universe? There is no suspense though but who needs those in a blockbuster.

Beyond these entertaining values, people of India advise their offsprings to take the great teachings through the characters. Rama the protagonist, is portrayed as a monogamous man with a glorious personality of unquestionable obedience to his parents. Sita the female lead, devoted in every atom of her body to her husband Rama would tear herself into pieces to fulfill the duties of the traditional Indian woman. Lakshmana, the brother and side kick of Rama, is another 500% devotee of Rama. But honestly, this reviewer thinks Rama is a male chauvinistic jerk, Sita is dumb and unnecessarily melodramatic while Lakshmana is the only element in this equation to have some sanity, though he is insanely hot tempered. No one comes out and says it aloud, not at least on a silver screen. There might be contemporary discussion over this as I have with my friends but coming out and filming it to what it is with satire, spoof and modern approach needs guts, inspiration and imagination. Writer/Director Nina Paley has just those and provides the entertaining story with simple animation, easy conversational comedy and through songs of Annette Hanshaw.

Paley tells the story of Ramayana through three shadow puppets conversing the story flow, the possibility, some controversial moves of the characters and simply having fun with it. As it is told with spectacular Indian accents and animation to match it, there happens another story in parallel in the current day. Said to be autobiographical, it tells about Nina and Dave living in San Francisco. Chance gets Dave to Trivandram in India for work and for reasons unexplained happens to drain the love out of Dave for Nina. Their story runs with certain similarity in the emotions of Ramayana but an ending of course unlike the epic.

What does Nina Paley trying to achieve telling an epic which is nothing new to Indian audience? May be her angst over the characters and the philosophy and rules drawn out of it drove her to draw similarities in certain of her reaction to such situation. Or may be she wanted to have fun with it and meanwhile give a look, feel and voice which never even passes the distant corners of a creative mind observing this epic. Though this is not aimed at Indian audience alone, it will be a unique experience for the audience who might not be aware of this story and the history. They get the colours and songs which is so fascinating to them from this country. They also get something they can easily associate and laugh along the way through it.

Over and over there is creativity in story telling. Taking the faces from the traditional drawings of these characters and then mixing it with her own perception and turning it around for another spin of the characters, Paley keeps afresh the look and feel of this Sita. The blues songs begins surprises and delights us in this unthinkable atmosphere and situation. Then the choreography which goes for it brings out guffaws in the movements of these animated figures. After a while though, the arrow for tolerance shifted to “pushing it” region for the numerous songs and similar choreography. Except that part, “Sita Sings the Blues” keeps you tickled and guessing on further amusements it promises to provide.

Nina Paley had to go through several copyright issues since she used Hanshaw’s songs. Being a DRM free activist herself, she decided to distribute this film for free which is a true gift to the audience. It is available for free viewing in youtube. It is also available for download from her website (http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/watch.html) in DVD format which is the mode this reviewer took. Hence I would personally ask the readers to reach out for this film online and let your friends, enemies and loved ones know about this beautiful film.

“Sita Sings the Blues” does not come out and slander this whole epic as someone might draw conclusion from this review. Most of it is personal viewpoint and the fact that the film takes similar tone brings it out strongly in me. Paley takes an ancient story so popular and heavily followed and taught fable into modern culture of liberated women and open minded men. In today’s world, Rama is not a hero rather a dangerous stereotype of Indian male who is insecure, doubtful and full of ego. Sita is not an exemplifying wife rather is melodramatic and blinded by traditions while having the unpredictability of women existing in this billion years of existence in universe. For me it is a brilliant satire, bold depiction, colourful imagination and an originality that begs for its viewers to spread the word around.


Bombay Belle said...

Very powerful review Ashok! I'm more inclined to see this movie than ever before.

Ashok said...

Thanks :-). I will bring the DVD tomorrow.