The American artist Nina Paley has wonderful work of animation with Sita Sings the Blues, a mix of 20s jazz musical and Indian mythology. The characters are based on the epic The Sitayana – the Story of Sita: Sita’s Adventures in the Ramayana. The stylized characters evoke Betty Boop and Sita’s voice is represented by the 20s blue singer Annette Hanshaw. How don’t remember of Woody Allen’s films with those sweet twenties songs?
This animation’s original title seems to have been The Sitayana. Like Anna’s feminist neologism, “Herstory,” Paley had replaced Rama with Sita in the title. And she goes even further: Sita has the only speaking part in the entire animation. Rama is strong but silent, a Ken doll and essentially decorative, the inverse of most action flicks. But Paley stays reasonably faithful to the original text. Her Sita is still a maiden in distress rather than a Shrek-like princess-ninja.
Paley also inverts the Moulin Rouge formula. Instead of desi music in an American tale, she uses 20’s American music (one song even includes the banjo) in a quintessentially desi story. Her soundtrack choice is a classy touch; imagine someone doing a version like hip-hop Shakespeare, using Justin Timberlake as the soundtrack.