Sita Sings the Blues is a critically acclaimed animated film by Nina Paley made in 2008. It tells a shortened version of the Ramayana with the main focus on the character of Sita. There is also a parallel plotline set in modern times centered on the relationship of Nina and Dave which has many similarities with the story of Sita and Rama.
In the film, the Ramayana is retold in various creative ways in terms of storytelling, art style, and even genre. A part of the plot is depicted directly, although the dialogues of the epic poem characters are often sarcastic or remarkably modern. In this part, the art style resembles classic Indian paintings and illustrations to ancient texts, a good example of which can be Radha and Krishna in the Grove, 1780 (Kampen O’Riley 95). The animation in this section of the film is minimal. Another part of the story of the Ramayana is told through commentary provided by three shadow puppets that also look like ancient Indian ink drawings. These characters appear to have a casual conversation about the plot of the epic poem. As they argue and discuss various points of the story and its characters, comic collages on the background illustrate everything they say. The collages consist of more modern depictions of Hindu gods, heroes, and villains (stylistically these images are closer to the painting The Triumph of Indrajit, 1903 (Kampen O’Riley 97), than to Radha and Krishna in the Grove) and of contemporary images and simplistic picture editing. The third part that also tells the story of the Ramayana in the film includes musical numbers. In this section the character of Sita sings with the voice of Annette Hanshaw, while the plot unfolds as a music video to her songs. Here, the art style changes again. It resembles the animation style of 1920s, while ultra-modern animation technology – the vector graphic animation – and bright colors are used to portray it.
Particularly, the design of Sita here is remarkably similar to the 1920s character Betty Boop. However, Sita’s stylized body shape in this parts of the animated film has more in common with ancient Indian sculptures such as Yakshi bracket figure from the east gate of the Great Stupa (Kampen O’Riley 68). In the modern part of the story, the animation and style change once again. This section is characterized by the usage of many photo collages. The film also contains a music number performed by Reena Shah and animated with the help of rotoscoping technique. This episode looks like a modern music video.
In general, Sita Sings the Blues is a very creative animated film that provides its viewers with unique experience. Despite its eclecticism, this work doesn’t seem erratic or random. It manages to tell a comprehensible and very emotional story raising such important topics as women rights and coping with the break-up trauma, while staying true to the plot of the Ramayana and sharing personal experience with the audience.