To tell the truth, I wanted to dislike Sita Sings the Blues. Or I should say, I fully expected to dislike it. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I feel about Sita, Mirabai and Radha the way some girls must feel about Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Since we were marooned in EBF, my father was more than happy to indulge my interest in reading by getting me every book I requested that had to do with anything Indian. I read Jawarhalal Nehru’s letters to Indira Gandhi, I read a version of the Ramayana, I read cartoon depictions of the Mahabharata, tales of Mirabai, books on Prahlad. Anything I could get my hands on. Maybe that’s why, when I ran out of these books, I found it easy to read Frank L. Baum, C.S. Lewis, or Madeline L'Engle- all that other-worldliness seemed to me just part and parcel of reading.
But the story of Sita always stuck with me. I remember reading every bit of information about her as I could gather. And I remember, from a very young age, thinking it’s rough out there for a girl. But even though I had my quibbles with the story of Sita and Rama, I have always been fiercely protective about it.
So I approached the film, fully expecting to be annoyed that it was misappropriated. But I will tell you what- Sita Sings the Blues deserves all the accolades it has been getting. It is extremely clever, not just in terms of the story it presents, not just in terms of the graphics and music, but also in terms of how the story is told. There is fascinating discourse as the story proceeds, fascinating to me because it’s exactly the kind of conversation that used to transpire in my family’s living room. Aunties and uncles would be sitting late at night dissecting the stories, picking them apart for their inconsistencies, everyone having heard a slightly different version of the story.
I’d seen clips of the movie before, and from it, the movie had just struck me as something kitschy. It’s way, way more than that. I’m honestly a bit jealous of it. When I was in college, I tried to mine the whole tale of Sita to write a story for a writing class. It was okay, but it nagged at me; it never quite connected the dots. It was always the idea that I thought, if I actually knew how to write, I would go back and get right. Along comes Nina Paley and she has figured out exactly how to explain how universal Sita’s story is. And she managed to do it while injecting healthy doses of clever humor where it is needed.
The jazz vocals used in the movie have apparently created some problems in terms of getting the film distributed. That’s a shame. I hope anyone who wants to gets a chance to see this movie, because it truly is brilliant. Currently, it's possible to watch it in its entirety here, and it's currently screening in New York.