Sita Sings the Blues: 1920’s Cartoon Bollywood Love Story
I was enchanted by the film “Sita Sings the Blues” from the moment I laid eyes on a movie-still in the film fest catalog, which I spotted while peering over the shoulder of a strange man. We were in line to see an pre-screening of W and I hadn’t brought my own reading materials. I was trying to be covert but the image of Sita threw me off. I began to coo and tug at the man’s jacket. He tried to turn the page and I protested. Sita didn’t sing to him like she did me.
The imagery is definitely girly in a wondrous, playful way. It set off the glam clang that tolls in my soul. The colors, the costumery, the romantic gossip of three shadow puppets, the monkey warrior, the blue-skinned bad boy whose only bad cause he’s so good, the 1920’s jazz music (throaty vocals of old Annette Hanshaw recordings.) Imagine the saturation of Bollywood in a sacred cartoon.
There’s masculinity at work too, which is very true to Indian myth. The feminine and masculine swirl together visually as the love story unlooses. Nina Paley made an odd choice when she decided to tell the story using 3+ styles of illustration/animation. I wasn’t sure at first because I fancied one in particular — the one used in the scenes where Sita belts out Hanshaw’s obsessive blues songs. The Robo-boy said, “It looks like psychedelic punk rock! Like Shag goes to Bollywood.” Of course! If Shag departed from his usual tiki triptychs or beatnik depictions of mods living the good life. If Shag shifted from all things hipster to all things trickster. The animation’s delightfully familiar yet deliciously fresh. Mythic & modern. Which is why the different styles idea grew on me. It spoke to the multi-faceted aspect of reality. We all paint our own stories, from our own unique perspectives. Archetypes and myth have been with us through cultural changes, beauty ideals, value shifts. There is always a mutation of myth as the story is lobbed. The morphic field fattens as the myth grows. It was quite insightful really, on Paley’s part, to present the same two characters with staid antiquity in one moment and whimsical agony the next.
This eternal essence of human energy was also evoked through the use of 1920’s jazz recordings. The gods are always with us, wherever and whenever we are. They create and re-create as we move through our unique versions of the world. Through us, they live a mirrored infinity of lives. The heartbreak of the goddess is carried like a torch — her heartbreak is our heartbreak. Why, our heart break is so profound an ache, so original a shiver, that it must be the drama of an ancient deity. Thus the modern, apparently autobiographical, story of “Nina” and the enormity of her hurt. Which brings me to my one critique — why did the goddess of 2008 have to be so dull? So dumpy? It was out of place in such a stunning, glamorous film and it didn’t have to be that way. In fact, the beauty who sat beside me is a heartbroken goddess and damn if she doesn’t look like one. With a head of hair not unlike Sita’s fabulous mane. Next to sensual Sita, “Nina” was just a lumpling with female pattern baldness and a proboscis like Wimpy from Popeye. Sunday Comics’ Cathy is sexier than “Nina.” And more likeable. Maybe it’s just me but I like my mortals to have a little oomph. Especially next to luscious Sita who sounds like a jazz diva, has a belly dancer’s wiggle and possesses the crackling aura of a silent screen star.
I love cartoons especially when they’re for grown-ups. I prefer my XXX animated. There’s none of that here, but with Sita’s sexy moves it wasn’t hard for my mind to go there. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Sita+Rama sex tape surfaces. I can’t wait! I love nothing more than a mythic beasty-man so a tantric hunk with skin the shade of laffy taffy? Hell yea!
It wasn’t just Sita’s man that had me lusty. That chick had some fine loot! Exotic saris, bling galore, a flying bed, a peacock gramophone.
When she held a banana up to her ear, my heart panged for my 7th grade banana phone. If only I still had that phone I could take all my calls like a curvaceous Indian love goddess. Speaking of cool stuff — when this baby comes out on DVD one of y’all beloveds better wrap it up in a turquoise bow for me. I must have access to this film at any hour of the day or night. When I’m hurting, I can play “count the crowns” while wearing a rhinestone tiara. That’ll make my skull tingle and my heart soar. At 3 am, when I need some mental glitter, I can pop it in and SPARKLE.
“Sita Sings the Blues” is a a magical telling of the Indian epic myth Ramayana. (“The Greatest Break-up Story Ever Told.”) Sita’s too good for Rama but don’t bother tellin’ her that! The mythic masterpiece was written, directed, produced, designed and edited by one extreme talent — Nina Paley. If you want to learn more about this amazing film, check out the website or peek in on Nina Paley’s blog here on wordpress.