Friday, August 19, 2016

Overview: Paley. Sita Sings the Blues

Author: Nina Paley
Title: Sita Sings the Blues
Year: 2008

Comments: Nina Paley's film, Sita Sings the Blues, is a full-length animated version of the Ramayana, focusing on Sita, and you can watch it for free at YouTube, thanks to the generosity of Nina Paley, who has put the film into the public domain! The film is woven together from three parts: the ancient story of Sita and Rama, commentary from three modern Indian narrators (who each have their own perspective on the story), and then the the story of Nina and her boyfriend Dave. You can find out more about Nina Paley and her work here: Nina Paley. The soundtrack consists of blues songs; you can see a complete list of the songs here.

Free Online: You can watch the film for free at YouTube.

Length: one week. The film is appx. 90 minutes long, divided into two parts, Part A and Part B. There is a detailed reading guide at the bottom of this post with film times plus notes.

Part A
0:00 Lakshmi rises from the sea with a phonograph.
0:03 The cosmos: Shiva in a ring of fire, Brahma, Lakshmi and Vishnu resting on Shesha, Surya the sun god, Chandra the moon god, the beating heart of the universe, and Bhumi the earth goddess.
0:05 San Francisco. We see Nina, her boyfriend Dave, and their cat. They are all very happy. The boyfriend gets a job in India.
0:07 The three narrators argue about the date of the Ramayana. They also argue about whether it is true or not, and about where the story took place.
0:08 King Dasharatha has three wives and four sons. Sita, daughter of Janaka, is Rama's wife. Queen Kaikeyi makes Dasharatha send Rama into exile. He dies of grief after Rama leaves.
0:11 Despite Rama's warnings about the rakshasas in the forest, Sita goes into exile with him. The phonograph plays a song while they go into the forest where they live happily while Rama slays rakshasas.
0:14 San Francisco airport: Nina kisses her boyfriend goodbye.
0:15 The narrators discuss Ravana who stole Sita. Ravana some say was a good king, but they also compare him to Mogambo the Hindi film villain. Ravana was so devoted to Shiva that he played the veena (lute) for him with his intestines: this refers to the legend that when a string on the veena broke, Ravana used his own guts to continue playing so that he would not interrupt the song. He was the king of Sri Lanka, and there was an ancient land bridge connecting India to the island.
0:17 Surpanakha is Ravana's sister. Angry at Rama, Surpanakha tells Ravana about Sita. Maricha tells Ravana to leave Sita alone but Ravana commands Maricha to become a golden deer to distract Rama so he can grab Sita.
0:18 Sita is enchanted by the golden deer. Rama suspects a trick, but Sita begs him to pursue the deer.
0:19 Sita sings about her love for Rama, while Ravana sneaks up on their forest hut.
0:21 Ravana abducts Sita in his flying chariot.
0:22 Sita drops her jewelry as a sign; Rama seeks her in the forest.
0:23 Hanuman: The narrators discuss Vishnu's incarnation as Hanuman, and one narrator mentions Shiva's incarnation as Hanuman (the other narrators had not heard about that, and it is indeed a later tradition).
0:24 Rama and Hanuman become allies. Rama sends Hanuman to look for Sita.
0:25 San Francisco: Dave calls Nina to invite her to India.
0:26 Sita is held captive in Lanka, and she weeps for Rama. She rejects Ravana's advances.
0:27 Hanuman finds Sita in Lanka while Sita sings the blues. He sets Lanka on fire and then returns to Rama.
0:31 The narrators argue about why Sita did not escape with Hanuman. Meanwhile, Nina goes to India.
0:32 The narrators argue about whether the monkeys were monkeys or half-monkey and half-man. Rama leads his monkey army to Lanka.
0:33 Sita sings with joy while Rama battles the rakshasas and slays Ravana.
0:36 Nina arrives in India, but Dave tells her not to kiss in public. They don't kiss in bed either.
0:37 The narrators discuss how Rama was cold to Sita after rescuing her.
0:38 Sita and Rama are reunited, but he rejects her because she lived in another man's house. He sends her away. Sita despairs.
0:39 Sita asks for a funeral pyre. The narrators argue about how to interpret this part of the story.
0:40 Sita sings the blues while she undergoes a test by fire, protected by Agni the fire god.
0:43 Rama asks for Sita's forgiveness.
0:44 Nina and Dave are working in the same office in India. Nina goes to New York for a week.
0:45 The narrators discuss the flying chariot, Pushpaka, that takes Rama and Sita back to Ayodhya.
0:46 Sita sings the blues again: if you want the rainbow, you must have the rain.

Part B
0:51 Dave breaks up with Nina by email when she is in New York. Her heart breaks and she burns with grief.
0:55 Sita tells Rama she is pregnant. Meanwhile, a laundry man (a dhobi) beats his wife, accusing her of being unfaithful and comparing her to Sita.
0:56 To protect his reputation, Rama tells his brother Lakshmana to take Sita into the forest and abandon her. The narrators debate these events.
0:57 Sita, now very pregnant, sings the blues again. Lakshmana, weeping, takes her into the forest and abandons her.
1:00 Nina is living in Brooklyn, and she dreams about Dave.
1:01 Sita thinks it is karma from a past life that is bringing her grief. She would kill herself if she were not pregnant. Valmiki rescues her.
1:02 Sita sings the blues on the shore of the river.
1:04 She gives birth to twins, Lava and Kusha. From Valmiki, they learn to sing the praises of Rama.
1:06 Nina calls Dave in India and begs him to take her back.
1:07 The narrators debate Sita's devotion to Rama.
1:08 Sita sings the blues again, looking at Rama's picture.
1:11 Rama hears the boys singing in the forest. He learns they are his sons, and they learn Rama is his father. He asks that Sita once again prove her purity.
1:12 Sita calls upon Mother Earth to prove her purity and take her back into the womb.
1:13 Sita sings about her love for Rama one last time, and then leaves them behind.
1:16 In New York, Nina reads the Ramayana and works on the film.
1:17 You see Chandra the moon god, Vishnu rubbing Lakshmi's feet (!), and the final credits roll.

Many thanks to Nina Paley
for putting this film in the public domain!

More about the remarkable Nina Paley.

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