Monday, July 22, 2019

Sita Sings the Blues

This is a creative delight. The Indian story of The Ramayana is told three ways, all from Rama's wife's point of view ... the titular Sita. An illustrated conversation between Indian shadow puppets is interspersed with musical interludes voiced with tracks by 1920's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw and scenes from creator Nina Paley's life. You can stream this movie free on YouTube as the creator, unusually, makes it available under a Creative Commons License.

We watched this way back in 2010 after reading Roger Ebert's 4-star review. It introduced us to Anette Hanshaw's music and the Ramayana, though we had no idea what that was.

Having now watched so many Indian movies we thought we'd rewatch it and see how it held up. We still found it delightful and now had a further frame of reference, having come across so many movie shortcut references to celebrations of the Ramayana. To the point when Rama goes after the golden deer, three of us exclaimed, "That's why there's a deer!" At which point our oldest daughter, who hasn't seen nearly as many of these movies as we have, shot us a look that made us realize just how deep we were diving.

We also could appreciate the intermission and the fact that there were so many song and dance numbers, albeit Annette Hanshaw and not Indian music. Clearly creator Nina Paley knew her way around a Bollywood movie or two.

It's not perfect and the modern day story is not that interesting, despite the parallels. But the three shadow puppets retelling the story, correcting each other's versions, and commenting on the classic tale more than made up for other imperfections. It was great the second time around.

It isn't a Bollywood film, but if you want an easy to understand, entertaining version of the Ramayana, this is it. Many of the pantomimes at religious festivals featured in movies will be much clearer!

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