Thursday, 9 March 2017

Global Animated Film Review: India- Sita sings the Blues

Fig 1: Sita sings the Blues Poster
Sita sings the Blues is a 2008 animated film, made almost completely by American artist Nina Paley and goes over the Indian story of Ramayana. The film suffered from copyright issues with the use of Annette Hanshaw's music that wasn't seen by Paley until it was too late and had to fork up a fine of $50,000. Due to this set back Paley was unable to make money on her film due to the fact that she couldn't distribute it through DVDs after the initial 4,999 copies. Sita sings the Blues was then available to download for free, with Nina Paley only asking for donations for her work. The film also suffered backlash from the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti back in 2009 due to the groups believe that the reimagining of Ramayana was offensive and demanded that the film be banned for good. However despite these issues the film was critically acclaimed with critics and has won numerous awards.

Fig 2: One of the Three main art styles used, in this case depicting Nina's Story
The film uses multiple different animation styles and is split into 3 different parts that rotate throughout the film. One part depicts the story of Ramayana, it is performed as a musical and uses the music of Annette Hanshaw to depict the journey of Sita. This part also features two art styles for its narrative and musical sections, the narrative is in a traditional Indian art style while the musical sections are in Vector Graphics. The part also parallels with a true story of Paley herself, drawn in a more sketchy style, it depicts her and her partner and their falling out of love similar to what Sita goes through with Rama. The third part is a interlude of sorts between the other two explaining the story in the style of Indian shadow puppets with the three characters discussing the story in a lighthearted way.

The use of the different styles of animation help in identifying what part is being watched and what to expect when each animation style is present. The format of the film is portrayed in Bollywood format with 2 acts and an intermission section of 5 minutes inbetween to hone back to the fact that Bollywood movies are often very long often around 3 to 4 hours in length. The use of songs through out also alludes to the Bollywood format Nina Paley wanted to achieve along with the common tropes of love and marriage.

Fig 3: Another of the Three Art Styles, this one is the musical number animation that was achieved through vector graphics 
The plot revolves around a loose telling of the story of the Ramayana, an Ancient Indian Epic Poem, going through the devine prince of The Kosala Kingdom, Rama, following from his banishment from his kingdom with his wife Sita and their struggles in the wilderness and also in their relationship. This is paralleled by another story playing alongside of the creator, Nina Paley, whose partner gets an animation job in India which eventually ends up with Nina moving to India too. However the relationship broke down after Nina had to go back to America, much in the same way that Rama left Sita.

The two plots weave around each other nicely due to the similarities in what happens to both Nina and Sita, with the downfall of each woman's relationships. The third part featuring the shadow puppets who explain the story in a chatty way is both humourous and educational. The animation in each part is impressive but especially in the opening and end scenes that uses the vector graphics from the musical numbers, it sets the tone for the film in a phenomenal way.

Fig 4: The Shadow Puppet Style used for exposition to explain the story of Ramayana
The shadow puppet segment in the expository sections of the film reference the old ways of Indian animation before the country's independence. Dadasaheb Phalke, India's first animator and known as the father of animation in India used shadow puppets and stop motion to achieve his animations in the 1910s. The interest in animation has boomed in India in recent years, from 1956 where Clair Weeks, a Disney Studios Animator helped in the training and the making of the first animation studios in the country. However despite is recent success in its animated films, India still as some ways to go before hitting international waters, from providing a way to allow animation to be more accessible to animators through technology but also in giving support for the production in animated films.


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