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Sita Sings the Blues
Sita Sings the Blues
This animated, blues inflected retelling of an Indian tale is entirely the work of one woman

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Sita Sings the Blues is an interpretation of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. It tells the story of the warrior prince Rama and his relationship with his wife Sita, who he rejects, breaking her heart. The film's American animator Nina Paley could identify because she was dumped by her husband.

"The film is semi auto-biographical," she admits. "I folded in my own story of my marriage breaking apart. And what I do is occasionally cut from these fantasy scenes of fantasy ancient India to my own modern story."

Sita Sings the BluesThe contemporary tale of Nina's disintegrating marriage is just one of three stories in the film. In addition there's the telling of the epic itself, as well as commentary from a group of three shadow puppets. But the most unusual aspect of the film is interspersing the storytelling with the Hindu goddess Sita singing the blues.

The vocals come from the 1920's American Jazz artist Annette Hanshaw. Paley included those songs because the lyrics and the sadness expressed resonated with her own pain.

"I was going through a heartbreak. This combination of the songs, which were torch songs, was very sad. Also Annette Hanshaw's voice, which was just so pure and vulnerable and clear."

But not everyone warms to the idea of bringing American jazz vocals to a cherished ancient epic. In India some critics have charged that Paley is denigrating a revered work.

"They say that I'm making a mockery of this and some of them say that I'm a Christian woman who hates Hindus," says Paley. "I'm not Christian and I love Hindus. I think that if they actually see the film they'll understand much better that I do have reverence for the Ramayana."

Sita Sings the BluesBut can Paley, as a westerner, get this very India story right?

"Yes it's Indian, but its also Malaysian and Thai and Cambodian and Indonesian. So even within India there is no single Ramayana. There are all kinds of interpretations of the Ramayana. There's lots of controversy over the Ramayana already. I'm sort of jumping into it."

But criticism of Nina Paley's work is not really what's getting it attention – it's the achievement itself, of how one woman directed, wrote, designed and animated a feature length animation all by herself.

"I animated this myself at home on one computer. I did the whole thing myself - designing, animating, writing, editing the whole thing."

'Sita Sings The Blues' is being shown at top film festivals around the world. This week the director is in Stuttgart with the film, trying to win a distribution deal. If she doesn't, she'll do what she's done with the rest of her film – distribute it herself.


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