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Sita Sings the Blues is a very independent animated film that portrays a portion of the Hindu epic the Ramayana. It was created by Nina Paley, and the film is, remarkably, almost a solo effort.
The whole film is split into four different segments that are interwoven around one another. One of the main stories is set in modern times and depicts the director Nina Paley and her husband. At first, the couple is very close to each other, but after he is sent off to India and contacts her less and less, they begin to grow apart. Even after Nina flies out to India to be with him, she feels a distance between them. Eventually she returns to America on business, where she receives an email from her husband telling her that it is over. These parts show how Nina finally finds The Ramayana as help to get through her break-up and how Sita's relationship parallels her own.
The other piece of the film shows parts from The Ramayana, which mostly detail Rama's banishing to the forest, Sita's kidnapping by Ravana, and the aftermath of this incident. One segment describes the parts of the story as they come along and are narrated by three shadow puppets. The shadow puppets not only tell the audience about the story, but also point out inconsistencies and their own interpretations of characters and other elements.
These are followed by the episode from The Ramayana, which includes dialog from the characters. This segment is drawn to mimic the Rajput style of Indian art, which was used to illustrate some of the original versions of this particular epic. The animation here is rather limited, in order to look like illustrations. The dialog is somewhat more modern here as well.
The musical episodes then follow. They also show the portions from The Ramayana, but this time with less limited animation, and more cartoony character designs. Throughout these parts, the action plays out with no actual dialog from any of the other characters. Instead, Sita helps narrate the scenes by singing through recordings of Annette Hanshaw, a 1920s jazz/blues singer. The songs here are juxtaposed in order to match the kind of emotion that Sita is going through at the time.
This delightful movie can be watched and downloaded free and legally in various locations online. Really, drop what you're doing and watch it now, you'll thank us later.
Contains examples of:
- Amazing Technicolor Population
- Animated Adaptation
- Arrow Cam: Deftly parodied when Rama fires arrows at Ravana.
- Art Shift: The film uses at least six different animation styles to tell the story, since Paley didn't want the audience to lose interest.
- Bittersweet Ending: Nina loses Dave, and Rama loses Sita as well - but in a meta twist, Rama and Sita are shown together again in their godly forms, except that this time it's Vishnu massaging Lakshmi's feet. Cos god dammit, he owes her.
- Book Ends: The film begins and ends with animated segments of
Sita and RamaLakshmi and Vishnu (and other Hindu deities) in space.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "Ravana was actually a scholarly man, he was a devout Shiva-worshipper, and... he played the vena with his intestines."
- Buffy-Speak: Done a few times in the episodes with dialog in order to make it more modern sounding.
- Catch Phrase: Annette Hanshaw says "That's all!" at the end of nearly every song she sang. Played in a particularly hilarious way in the last two songs of the film.
- Cold Open: Lakshmi summoning the peacock phonograph.
- Cool Airship: the pushpaka is even referred to as such.
- Creator Breakdown: Without giving too much away, the impetus for the film was a messy breakup.
- Cross Cultural Kerfluffle: While reaction to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, Paley did receive some negative feedback ranging from "how dare this American woman make a movie based on Ramayana" to "It's offensive just because it's animated."
- According to her website, she also got a lot of negative feedback because Sita's breasts and hips were too large, and her outfit didn't help.
- Disney Acid Sequence: The instrumental sequences at the beginning, middle (featuring Reena Shah singing and dancing) and end. Actually, the entire film is one long, witty acid trip, and has been compared to Yellow Submarine.
- Distressed Damsel: Sita.
- Doing It for the Art: The story behind the film is as remarkable as the film itself. Paley created the film almost entirely by herself on her home computer, then allowed it to be distributed online for free. This is explained a bit better on her website.
- Double Standard: Pointed out, as Rama continually doubts Sita's chastity, even after she goes through the flames to prove it.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Ravana refuses to rape Sita.
- It should be noted that in the original text of the Ramayana it says that Ravana was cursed by another god because Ravana raped the guy's wife. Anyways, the curse is that if Ravana rapes a woman, he will die. It is not mentioned in the movie, probably for time reasons.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Hanuman and his monkey army taking out Ravana.
- Although the Shadow Puppet narrators have a bit of an argument on whether or not Hanuman is a monkey or not. They decide that they can't figure out what the heck he is, and say he's a species all his own.
- This is because Hanuman and the monkey army are Vanaras, monkey-like humanoid creatures from Hindu Mythology.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Interestingly enough, the main staple of the film is Sita singing 1920s blues songs. It works quite well.
- Eye Take: done with Ravana, several times in a row.
- Flanderization: The shadow puppets discuss this happening to Ravana throughout the years. Ravana has become, to most people, a Complete Monster because of his kidnapping of Sita. However, this action is about the only horrible thing that he is shown doing. In fact, he is actually shown on many instances as being a rather scholarly person. Also, when Ravena takes Sita, he gives her shelter and food, and he pointedly does not take advantage of and/or rape her.
- Flower Motifs: LOTUSES!
- Fridge Logic: Lampshaded by the shadow puppets, about why Sita doesn't escape Lanka with Hanuman, and instead waits for Rama to rescue her instead.
- Sita leaves a trail of jewelry as she is kidnapped by Ravana so Rama can follow her. The female shadow puppet wonders how she can do that when she left all her belongings back home.
- The two male puppets start to question why Sita is so loyal to Rama after everything he puts her through. The female puppet tries to explain that's it just a girl thing, but bullshit is still called.
- Greek Chorus: The shadow puppets.
- The Hero Sucks Song: Rama's Great calls Rama out on abandoning Sita by sarcastically singing his praises.
- He Will Come For Me: Sita waits calmly for Rama to rescue her from Ravana.
- Holding Back the Phlebotinum: Sita mentions that she only needs Rama's permission to bust herself out of Lanka. To be fair, Vishnu and Lakshmi being born in human form pretty much means this is a given.
- Hope Spot: it's even called "If You Want the Rainbow You Must Have The Rain".
- Impossible Hourglass Figure
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The apparently random
deardeer in "Mean To Me".
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": not the numerous re-corrections of certain character names, but the pronunciation of "intestines" you are not likely to hear elsewhere.
- Limited Animation: The episodes with dialog are purposefully done this way in order to look more like traditional illustrations of The Ramayana.
- Ludicrous Gibs: parodied whenever the Raksasa are attacked, whether with Rama's arrows or his bare fists.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Rama's Great, Rama's Good" is a peppy, catchy song about...how awesome Rama is for throwing his wife onto a pyre and banishing her when she was pregnant.
- Meadow Run: After the battle where Rama rescues Sita.
- Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Ravana and some of the actual deities.
- Multiple Head Case: See above.
- Musical Episode: The segments which involve singing an Annette Hanshaw song while the action of the scene plays out.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Rama refused to take Sita back because she had lived at the house of another man... another man who kidnapped her, and with whom she specifically did not have sex, refusing even to come under his roof. (All portrayals of Sita in captivity show her sitting outdoors.)
- My God, What Have I Done?: Rama sheds a Single Tear when he realises he's lost Sita for the last and final time... which would make him a literal Crying Indian.
- Plot Parallel
- Power Trio: the shadow puppets appear to fill these roles after a while; shorter male = Superego, taller male = Id and female = Ego. The latter two switch roles towards the end.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: See Even Evil Has Standards above.
- Single Tear: Rama, at the very end.
- Sita Has Many Names: Sita only being one of them.
- Sophisticated As Hell
"...my man will come and rescue me, and when he does... your ass is grass."
- Sparkling Stream of Tears: Sita uses these regularly.
- Squiggle Vision: The parts with Nina.
- Storming the Castle: The attack on Lanka.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The ultimate fate of Sita, as in The Ramayana, when the earth herself (Gaia) rises up to take Sita back into her womb.
- Top-Heavy Guy: several, but Ravana takes the cake by having like, ten heads.
- Villains Out Shopping: during the intermission, all the characters regardless of alignment go to get drinks and snacks together (Sita even takes a much needed toilet break).
- What Happened To The Cat?: The cat shown with Nina at the end of the movie is not the same cat shown in the first scene. They know you're worrying and the first title card of the end credits lets you know Lexi is fine.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Agni the fire god doesn't just carry Sita out of the fire personally, he ropes in two more deities to deliver an epic WTHH to Rama.
- Also done by his own children