Nina Paley’s film “Sita Sings the Blues” reveals the culture and values conveying a message of art across cultures and generations. The Ramayana of Valmiki is an epic poem portraying the ideal relationship between Rama and Sita. Comparison of the epic poem and film leads to significant contradictions as the role of Sita in both illustrates a different story. The role of Sita in Ramayana is a traditional one that transforms to a modern and enlightens one in Paley’s film. The film provokes criticism as it is against the Hindu fundamentalist. The film carries parallel narratives disparate through visual threads. It represents a doubtful narrative when one compares it with the original poem. Paley creates a subversive feminism against the idea of ideal Sita.
In Ramayana of Valmiki, the concept of feminism displays patience, obedience, and calmness. The poem portrays Sita as an idealistic woman who represents the perfect model thus fulfilling the conditions of the Indian culture. In Indian culture, the women remain subservient to their male partners and have a duty to take all the pains in keeping their relationship. It also conveys the theme that females have to take all the troubles in holding their relationships with their husbands irrespective of their harshness. Compared to Ramaya, Paley in the film tries to recreate the story of Sita in modernized settings. Paley in the film stresses more on the fate of Sita and transmits a modern view that happiness for women is not limited to marriage life. Understanding remains an important element of a happy relationship. Paley changes the gender depiction as she represents Sita as a woman with desires and hopes. Her focus is not limited to fulfill her duties but also on attaining her dream (Rochlin).
The most profound difference between the poem is of female dharma. The Ramayana of Valmiki tries to maintain originality by exhibiting Sita as the follower of religion and caring more for her dharma. Her only focus is on fulfilling her role according to the religion and conveys her limitations. Dharma specifies idealistic behavior apparent in her acceptance of her traditional duties. In the poem, both Rama and Sita are perfect role models and justifies the definition of perfection according to Indian culture. Sita expresses Dharma through her strength, bravery, faithfulness and devotion towards her husband. Rama also plays a loyal and perfect husband, son and brother. Sita in Paley’s film plays an entirely different role under her own personalized image. Sita lacks satisfaction and happiness that she had in the epic poem. Paley recreates the role of Sita and displays her in pain through her crying. The film captures the darker side of Sita’s life and portrays her crying for her fate. She becomes more of a victim due to the complications she faced in her life. There are no signs of strong Dharma or her intentions of playing a perfect wife (Richman).
An absence of loyalty makes Paley’s film a different version of the epic poem. In the poem, Rama doubted his wife that she was touched by another man during her kidnap. Sita spends the time of separation in the forest and still remains loyal to her husband. Throughout her separation, she longed for meeting Rama and remained pious. For Sita living without her husband was impossible. Her loyalty is also apparent in her upbringing as she taught her sons to love their father. She exhibited no hatred for him and never thought of other men. Paley’s film lacks same loyalty and tries to build relevance of her own story with Sita’s. She connects the two stories and displays herself living in San Francisco with her boyfriend. The film tries to connect two different cultures as she portrays her unstable relationship with her boyfriend. When her boyfriend leaves her she tries to reconnect and endures sufferings. A woman in the film lacks strength because she is unable to forget her boyfriend thus representing her as a weak character. She has no legal relationship in the film but she tries to hold onto it. Wile in Sita’s story she never forgets her husband and always thought of going back to him. The art displayed in Paley’s film shows relevance with a current world where people care less about true relationships. The emphasis of Paley is more on the modern culture thus eliminating the concept of purity (Richman).
Male ego and selfishness in the film transform the original character of Rama. Paley in her film captures the darker side of the male character thus changing the traditional Rama in modern settings. In the epic poem, Rama is a loving, loyal and fulfilled his role as a good husband. The poem did not display him as the evil man as it mentions, “evil men are like hailstone”. Original Rama lacked evilness and conveyed the message of love. The most visible example is of forgiveness as Rama disregarded his enemies. Rama in the poem disengage himself from wrong because he believed that destroying others leads to self-destruction. He was more concerned about choosing the right path and avoid hurting others. He himself endured pain for the comfort of others as reflected in his decision of staying in the forest. The character of Rama changes entirely in the film as Paley displays him as a selfish and evil man. In the film, the male character cares for himself and displays no concerns towards his love (Sridharan).
Relationship differences represent striking contradictions between the film and the poem. The epic poem simulated pure love between husband and wife. In Indian culture, love was accepted only between the married couple. The meaning of love changed in Paley’s film as she illustrates love between an unmarried couple. The cultural gap is apparent between the two stories as in the epic poem society never accepted a relationship between unmarried couples. Compared to the poem, the film represents a modern society where men and women live freely in a love relationship without legal bindings (Richman).
Elimination of social constraints in the film makes the concept of idealistic woman non-existent. In poem referred to the period and culture when women faced social limitations and society never permitted them to take roles against the social taboos. The film exhibits no limitations as the woman is free to make choices and live in any way she likes. Morality is missing in Paley’s film as she lives with a strange man. Sita in Ramayana of Valmiki could not dare to live with a strange man depicting the social limitations. Paley focuses on women rights and rejects the old myth that confines her to her duties and responsibilities. She confers the idea of gender equality contrary to the original theme of Sita. Her sense of responsibilities becomes apparent in her fourteen years of suffering spent in exile (Richman).
A language used in epic poem tries to represent the characters as supernatural. The language creates melodramatic settings where Rama tries to rescue his wife. It emphasizes on retelling the original story in the poetic form that also transmits narrative sculptures on temple walls. Dramatic tradition reflects the theme of a village and reenacted drama conveying the Indian mythology of Sita and Rama. The tone used in the poem is pleasantly uncovering the brighter prospects of Sita’s life while Paley uses entirely different figurative language. The language in the film creates metaphors that depict feminine oppression (Rochlin).
Endings lead to different cultures and time periods. In Paley’s film, she only accepts the reality at the end of the story while Sita carried strong opinions since the beginning. In the end, Paley manages to overcome the pain of lost love and learns to live without her boyfriend. She learns the importance of true love and loyalty and that he was not good for her. in the epic poem, Sita struggled to prove her innocence to her husband because that was the only way to reconnect. It was a grave concern for Sita to remove the label of impure because in Indian culture the idealistic woman has refrain relationships with men. Paley’s film shows a woman transforming as she reflected her thoughts and actions. She learned from her mistakes and tried to live a better life (Richman).
Paley’s film breaks the cultural hegemony of the poem Ramayana of Valmiki. The epic poet demonstrated the realities and mythological functions in the Indian culture. Paley necessary devalued myth associated with the original story. The poem emphasizes on paying keep attention to the myth conveying the traditional and designed roles of males and females. Paley tries to replace the mystic simplicity with the chaos as the film raises questions against the social settings in limiting the role of a woman. Paley’s film recognizes the story of Sita as an injustice against the Indian context. The poem portrays Sita as an erotic woman who is not less than a goddess due to her greatness and the qualities she possesses. Paley attempts to maintain splintering identity of Sita by capturing her pain and tears. The modern Sita in her viewpoint would resist the male brutality and change her fate.
Sridharan, Tarini. Transnational Adaptation: The Complex Irreverence of Narrative Strategy in Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues. 2017. 07 03 2018 <http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Fall2014_TransnationalAdaptation.html>.
Richman, Paula. “Ramayana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology .” Bloomington: Indiana University Press (2008): 288.
Rochlin, Margy. Hindu Goddess as Betty Boop? It’s Personal. 2009. 07 03 2018 <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/movies/15roch.html>