Sita Sings the Blues is a very independent 2008 animated musical 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 are 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.
The other piece 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 dialogue 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 — the page image is from one of these sections. Throughout these parts, the action plays out with no actual dialogue from any of the other characters. Instead, Sita narrates the scenes via 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.
The film can be watched and downloaded free and legally in various locations online. It was followed up ten years later by Seder-Masochism which reinterprets Hebrew Bible events from the Book of Exodus.
Sita sings the tropes:
- 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.
- The Backwards Я: The film does this several times with Devanagari, such as with the title card, the intermission screen, and the Written Sound Effects during the battle at Ravana's palace.
- 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, goddammit, he owes her.
- Book Ends: The film begins and ends with animated segments of Lakshmi 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."
- Catchphrase: Annette Hanshaw says "That's all!" at the end of nearly every song she sang.
- Damsel in Distress: Sita. After she is kidnapped by Ravana, she constantly talks about how "her man" will rescue her, and even refuses to leave with Hanuman after he finds her.
- 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.
- Domestic-Only Cartoon: Animated entirely by Nina Paley in the U.S.
- 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.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Interestingly enough, the main staple is Sita singing 1920s blues songs. It works quite well.
- Eye Take: Done with Ravana, several times in a row after Sita tells him about her devotion to Rama.
- The Face of the Sun: Surya is depicted either as a flaming head or in his typical chariot-riding depending on the shot.
- Flanderization: In-Universe example. The shadow puppets discuss this happening to Ravana throughout the years. Ravana has become, to most people, a 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 Ravana takes Sita, he gives her shelter and food, and he pointedly does not take advantage of and/or rape her.
- Freudian 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.
- Greek Chorus: The shadow puppets guide the audience through the story.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack: When Nina first receives the email from Dave about her being dumped, this plays before her heart explodes.
- "The Hero Sucks" Song: Rama's Great calls Rama out on abandoning Sita by sarcastically singing his praises. And it's sung by his own sons.
- 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.
- I Have Many Names: Sita is known to have many names, with Sita only being the one she's best known by.
- Impossible Hourglass Figure: Take a look at Sita's body shape. The torso is thin, and the hips are practically a perfect circle.
- Impractical Musical Instrument Skills: Played for Horror. Ravana plays the veena with his intestines (yes, you read that right) to prove his devotion to the gods.
- Intermission: Three minutes not only for the viewer, but played by the characters themselves as if they attended a movie theater at the film's premiere. Very humorous moments as some go to a restroom break, and get refreshments. The fire god goes to get a hot dog and Red Hots candy.
- 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 Rakshasa 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.
- Mood Dissonance: Done very humorously in the animation, as Haruman's army, led by Rama, generate a literal bloodbath in the enemy lair while Sita cheerfully sings about their arrival.
- 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 realizes he's lost Sita for the last and final time... which would make him a literal Crying Indian.
- Mystical Lotus: Parodied when Shurpanakha praises Sita's beauty. She does so solely through lotus metaphors, which start out poetic but quickly turn extremely awkward and contrived.Shurpanakha: Dear Brother Ravana, have you seen Rama's wife Sita? She is the most beautiful woman in the world. Her skin is fair like the lotus blossom. Her eyes are like lotus pools. Her hands are like, uh... lotuses. Her breasts are like big, round, firm, juicy lotuses!
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In just about all of the musical episodes Sita is either smiling or weeping, depending on the circumstances, and always singing. So when she glares at Rama in fury and actually speaks, you know that she's finally had enough even before she asks the earth to swallow her up.
- Plot Parallel: The film regularly switches between Ancient India and Nina's modern-day life, and shows how the two stories are similar.
- Public Domain Animation: Paley released the film into the public domain.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Subverted. Paley thought that the Hanshaw recordings were public domain, but they're protected until the 2030s. She still had to pay music clearances for the compositions (mostly to Warner Chappell).
- Pun: The apparently random deer in "Mean to Me". In the same number, bananas show up when Sita takes a phone call.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: BIG. ROUND. FIRM. JUICY. LOTUSES!
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Ravana may be evil, but raping Sita is out of the question for him.
- Reaction Shot: After Ravana kidnaps her, Sita makes a short speech about how she will remain loyal to her husband Rama who will surely come rescue her and kick his ass. Each sentence is punctuated with the same dramatic cut to Ravana reacting with shock and anger.
- Record Needle Scratch: Twice. First when Lakshmi attempts to fix the skipping Annette Hanshaw record as the opening credits begin, and later as the Romeo And Juliet Overture begins to play as Sita and Rama are ostensibly about to be reunited after Rama rescues her from Ravana.
- She Will Come for Me: Sita waits calmly for Rama to rescue her from Ravana.
- Single Tear: Rama, at the very end, after Mother Earth lets Sita return to her womb to prove Sita's pureness.
- Sophisticated as Hell"...my man will come and rescue me, and when he does... your ass is grass."
"Joy of Heaven and Earth. The Ideal Man. May the Gods Be With You.""Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out."
- Not to mention this exchange when Rama is banished:
- Talking Is a Free Action: Sita gives one last performance before her pursuers, frozen in time, before she disappears into the Earth Mother's womb.
- The Teaser: At the beginning, Lakshmi appears alongside a peacock phonograph, which then starts playing one of Annette Hanshaw's songs. After the phonograph starts skipping, Lakshmi touches it, which causes it to explode, and then cut to the title.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: As in The Ramayana, this is Sita's ultimate fate when the earth herself (Bhūmi) rises up to take Sita back into her womb.
- Unreliable Narrator: Each of the shadow puppets, in turn, get facts wrong in the story that are corrected by the other two.
- 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). Ravana, the multiple-headed gent and only real villain, picks up a soft drink to sip—one for each head. Cue the synchronized belch by almost all of the heads.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: 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.
Rama's wise, Rama's justRama does what Rama mustDuty first, Sita lastRama's reign is unsurpassed!
- Also done by his own children in the form of sarcastic praise.