DIRECTED BY NINA PALEY
WITH THE VOICES OF SANJEEV JHAVERI, DEEPTI GUPTA, DEBARGO SANYAL, REENA SHAH, POOJA KUMAR, ALLADIN ULLAH, ASEEM CHHABRA, BHAVANA NAGULAPALLY and NINA PALEY
It was not with as much expectation as fear that I approached Nina Paley’s caricature of ‘the Ramayana’, the distinctively elaborate Indian epic that questions Ethics over Priorities with a tinge of feminism that she deftly has tapped, or so needs us to believe. The film is titled ‘Sita sings the Blues’ – a musical, and in that way a satirical tribute that runs parallel to Epic representations in the past, present and perhaps even the future of Indian Cinema. A possible leech on the Billie Holiday autobiography ‘the Lady sings the Blues’ as well as its film version, it dawns with the potential of a feminist exploit that relies on motif and depiction than actual content, and I walked into it with intention to not let any detail go by, however small, for it could prove to thwart my understanding of the film, in which case I might fail to appreciate its creative complexity, visual brilliance and artistic merit.
And yet, I ended up watching it like a cartoon. And it failed right there.
The film struggled with emphasis, or so I felt. The story is certain, and the premise is clear. We’re in for a heroine than a hero – it’s a story of Sita and not Rama, the drawn-out centerfold who plays Queen of Crime as well as crying Victim in the eternal breakup. Nina lives with the closure that Sita finds herself in, there’s only so much a woman can do to prove her chastity. The short jokes there lack impact, it’s a sinking ship so it’s absurd to come out dry and deem yourself plastic. And in that way, this Sita pledges her power through indifference or tries to, at least, while her Husband fights that notion with his sense of justice, one for the Greater Good. In other words, it’s the quintessential struggle of chauvinism against liberation, the vehicle being that one single story that dismissed them both as a conflict of ego and nothing more. If the Epic was man’s way of accepting his flaws, but not without expending innocence and shouldering guilt, this film is what – a zillionth edition reprint with an alternate ending?
The present unfolds as you fold it back to make ends meet. And it’s west meets east, east inspires west, east ends up in western art with a curiosity boost? I don’t say that ‘Sita sings the Blues’ is a bad cartoon, but I do maintain that it was unendurable. If it was an object of fascination, then I guess I wasn’t the right kind of Cuckoo to take the bait. Yet, it’s undeniable that it had its share of quirks, a couple of tongues in the absence of cheek. The end could be considered ‘drastic’, but the Goddess Lakshmi winks her way into a twitchy smile aside from which the film had barely anything to quote. The songs were monotonous with naught but one welcome change in the form of ‘Rama’s Great’ – they aren’t as much an outrage as they’re a waste of musical effort, though.
In essence, the film ranks somewhere between ‘woefully wondrous’ and ‘horribly funny’, which means it’s pretty much on the wrong scale. And I wish Ms. Paley, in her delusional elitism, has found solace in all praises heaped, for she’s most definitely not getting mine. Nothing offered where nothing deserved: I’d like to see her go Blue on this bit of detail.