What is common between a lady who has been dumped by her husband and Sita?
This question would leave many a Hindu fanatic with a raised eyebrow for whom Sita is the legendary goddess of sacrifice.
40 year old Nina Paley could not help but compare her situation with Sita giving way to a critically acclaimed animation, which is now available on DVD.
Nina's husband took a job in India and communication rapidly broke down. Paley, a cartoonist with a solid reputation in the underground comics scene, moved to India to be with him, but things weren’t going well.
She started work on a comic book, using her laptop with a tablet attachment, drawing characters in Flash and kept playing with them until she got to New York. Having heard Annette Hanshaw's 'Mean To Me', she related to it as her own story. In the meanwhile, she was also highly influenced by the ancient Hindu epic, Ramayana. She was especially drawn to the story of Sita, Rama’s wife, the quintessential woman done wrong. She’s kidnapped by his rival, but once rescued, Sita's chastity is doubted by Rama. He cannot take her back because he can’t be sure she hasn’t been “defiled.” He’s convinced of her virtue by an actual trial by fire and takes her back, only to banish her when he finds that his people don’t respect him because they doubt her purity.
Paley made an award winning jaunty short about the greatest break-up story ever. An animated Sita, who looks strikingly like Betty Boop, lip-synchs to a Hanshaw's song “Mean to Me.” Paley's work amazed the audiences, which led her to plunge into the more ambitious project of making a feature-length film that simultaneously tells the story of Sita and of Paley’s own breakup. As a counterpoint to her own experiences separating from her husband after he takes a job in India.
This proudly low-tech animated feature harnesses an unlikely but wholly beguiling combination of the Ramayana, literary analysis, jazz-era music, autobiography and home moviemaking. The mix doesn’t quite add up to a sense of narrative momentum, but the main thing to praise about Sita is its distinctive look.
In an age of 3-D monsters and aliens, Paley demonstrates how much mileage you can get out of Flash-animated bobble motion and one-eyed bats. It is a visual delight, with a variety of animation and drawing approaches, from direct sketchy drawing to vector patterns to shadow puppets to scanned and composited photographs.
But why the blues? Well, why not? Paley finds effective moments in the story for the songs of jazz luminary Annette Hanshaw, making particularly catchy use of “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home?” This is the kind of personal filmmaking that could only have come together through a chance set of inspirations. Or should we call it fate.
Watch the Video! To see the other side of Sita we never knew.
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