Film review: Sita Sings the Blues (2009)

I only recently became aware of this film that tells in animated form the story of the epic poem the Ramayana that, along with the Mahabharatha, provides much of the foundational myths of Hindus and India. There are many different versions of this epic poem. Like all such myths it blends the life of gods with that of humans, with gods manifesting themselves as people. The basic story is that of the divine prince Rama, his wife Sita, the demon king Ravana who abducts Sita, and her subsequent rescue.

The poem is long and weaves in all manner of themes. As this Wikipedia article says: “The Ramayana is one of the largest ancient epics in world literature. It consists of nearly 24,000 verses (mostly set in the Shloka meter), divided into seven Kandas (books) and about 500 sargas (chapters). In Hindu tradition, it is considered to be the adi-kavya (first poem). It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal father, the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king.”

This film is the product of Nina Paley who weaves her own story of the breakup of her marriage with that of the troubles undergone by Sita who is treated badly by her husband for what seems like trivial reasons and for being unable to achieve unrealistic standards of female virtue. Paley uses commentary by three narrators who amusingly explain what is going on as well as the ambiguities and problems with the story. An interesting feature of the film is that the soundtrack for the songs sung by Sita are really by jazz singer Annette Hanshaw (1901-1985) that Paley discovered on old 78 rpm records.

Paley has made the entire 82-minute film freely available where you can download it and also watch on YouTube. She also explains why she made the film, how her own journey intersected with the story, and why she made it freely available, foregoing all the copyright protections.

I enjoyed the film. Although I am from Sri Lanka, I had only the vaguest idea of what the Ramayana story was all about and it was interesting to get at least a rough understanding of it.

Here’s the trailer.

And here’s the full film.


  1. Eric O says

    I really liked this movie when it first came out. A couple months ago, though, I was really disappointed to learn that Nina Paley is openly transphobic; it’s kind of hard to enjoy her work now.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Eric O,

    Thanks for that link. Yeah, it is disappointing when you like an artist’s work and then find out that they have views that are objectionable.

    But I am hopeful that over time they will change their views as they think more about it and, more importantly, get to know more people who have gone through the transition and not only not regretted it but feel much more comfortable now.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    Back when Avicenna was here, I found myself teaching the Ramayana in a World Lit class when the regular teacher went awol. I wrote to Avicenna asking him what he though of the Ramayana; my recollection is that he said that most intellectuals in India scorned it because of the rampant sexism and other reasons, and that the Mahabharatha was much better.

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