Sita Sings the Blues (review)

I’m planning this to be a new regular Wednesday feature: a superindie, a movie available for anyone to view that has not gotten a traditional release. It might be available online, or to purchase on DVD from the filmmaker, or some other way that avoids traditional multiplexes and arthouses.

How does heartbreak become art? Just like this. Animator Nina Paley, prompted by her own romantic troubles, melds an ancient Indian story — The Ramayana, about the exile of Prince Rama and the devotion of his beloved wife, Sita, even during her capture by the evil king Ravana — with a modern tale about San Franciscan Nina, who follows her husband, Dave, when work takes him to India, with disastrous results. Like a storybook in motion, Paley’s delightful mix of animation styles draws visual inspiration from a panoply of 20th-century pop culture — everything from golden-age Hollywood musicals and Monty Python to video games and comic books — and classical Indian art to create a crosscultural collage that embraces the universality of feminine rage at men who treat women abominably, and the refusal of a gal to let herself become a helpless victim of male pride and possessiveness. Bridging the woes of Sita and Nina is a clever soundtrack of old torch songs by Betty Boop-voiced 1920s jazz star Annette Hanshaw… which Paley accompanies with ultramodern vector-graphic animation: it’s in these segments that the film is at its most triumphantly audacious, giving us a feisty but lamenting version of Sita that challenges the traditional constraints on the female gender. Wonderfully inventive and witty, this is smart eye candy to nourish and stir a lovesick soul.
Watch Sita Sings the Blues online on YouTube. Here’s the first part:

Other options for viewing are available at the film’s official site.

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