January 3, 2010 -- “Sita Sings the Blues” is a clever low-budget animated feature based on the epic story Ramayana, one of the most important works of ancient India. The basic story makes little sense to those unfamiliar with Indian culture and literary traditions, but it is made accessible in this film by the use of a kind of Greek Chorus of shadow puppets, who help interpret the story for non-Indian audiences. These shadow puppets make comments about the story in a way that is similar to those shadowy figures in the popular 1980s and 1990s TV show called “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” In addition to the main story of Ramayana, there is a secondary story set in modern times about a young couple who are separated by the fortunes of employment and love. This secondary story is a kind of 21st century version of the ancient Ramayana story. The animation style of the two stories is quite different. There are also some differences in the artistic design of characters in the Ramayana story, depending on who the narrator is at the moment.
The movie not only uses multiple animation designs and styles, including squiggle-vision, it also makes use of unusual music to tell its story. There is some classical music in the soundtrack. There are also a number of songs, mostly sung by Sita (the singing is from recordings by the late great 1920s and 1930s Jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, while Reena Shah provides Sita's speaking voice). Songs by Henshaw are, “Am I Blue?” “Here We Are,” “What I Wouldn't Do For That Man,” “Daddy Won't You Please Come Home?” “Who's That Knocking at My Door?” “Mean to Me,” “If You Want the Rainbow, You Must Have the Rain,” “Moanin' Low,” “Lover Come Back to Me,” “I've Got a Feelin' I'm Fallin'” and “The Song is Ended.” Music by Rohan, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Nik Phelps, and Todd Michaelsen and Reena Shah of the duo My Pet Dragon is also heard on the soundtrack.
The story has Sita and her husband Rama sent into exile for 14 years. Sita is stolen away by the evil king Ravana. Rama rescues her, but then discards her as impure, even after she is shown to be pure in a trial by fire. Sita finds herself banished from the kingdom, even after she becomes pregnant with Rama's two sons. In a parallel modern story, Dave and Nina find themselves living thousands of miles apart after Dave accepts a job in India and Nina stays in San Francisco. Nina later is rejected by Dave, who decides to stay in India, while Nina moves to New York, finding some comfort in studying Sita's story in Ramayana. This film rates a B.
Like the rest of the film, the distribution of this film is unusual. A limited number of copies are being sold in a DVD format, but it is also available for free download on the internet in a variety of formats under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-alike 3.0 Unported license. There is also a film and HD-digital distribution to theaters. According to Wikipedia, part of the reason for this unusual distribution deal is the result of a deal struck between the filmmaker, Nina Paley, and the copyright holders of some of the music used in the film.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.