July 05, 2012

Stolen from an Indian King

"The king doth keep his revels here to-night.
Take heed the queen come not within his sight,
For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,
Because that she as her attendant hath
A lovely boy, stol'n from an Indian king.
She never had so sweet a changeling..."
(Puck, A Midsummer Night's Dream I.ii)

In 2008, Nina Paley's funny and stunning feature-length animated film Sita Sings the Blues burst onto the scene, mixing Flash animation, Annette Hanshaw blues tracks, and the ancient Indian epic of the Ramayana - specifically, the adventures of Sita, wife of Rama, who is kidnapped by the evil Ravana and rescued by her husband with the help of the monkey-faced Hanuman.

The film jumps back and forth between the tale itself, comedic commentary by a chorus of experts, and scenes from Paley's own life. Different visual styles are used in each of these parallel narratives: 18th-century Rajput painting, shadow puppets traditional to much of south and southeast Asia, geometric "vector graphic" animation, and the energetic "Squigglevision" technique.

Ravana approaches Sita during her captivity:

The shadow puppet narrators discuss Rama's attitude towards Sita after her trial by fire:
Shadow Puppet


Ravana Abducts Sita to Lanka:

Surya (Sun deity):

Chandra (Moon deity):

In a bookstore recently I stumbled across Pixar animator Sanjay Patel's exquisite Ramayana – Divine Loophole, which shares elements of both subject matter and style with Paley's film.










You can watch all one hour and twenty minutes of Sita Sings the Blues on YouTube, or read a New York Times article about how San Francisco's Asian Art Museum "hired Mr. Patel to cover the museum’s exterior with his effervescent Pop Art, transforming the stodgy gray neo-Classical-style building into a bright tableau of color and Hindu whimsy. In November, the museum will hand Mr. Patel the keys to an interior gallery, where it will present his Disneyesque illustrations, a magical kingdom of mythic Indian characters, in a show called Deities, Demons and Dudes With ’Staches."

Me, I'm keeping an eye out for The Little Book of Hindu Deities. How can you not love a Kali this kawaii?


Posted by Alison Humphrey at July 5, 2012 11:46 AM