The Wax Conspiracy

Sita Sings the Blues

Wake up in a mop sweat in bed at number 4 Susannah Place and, if you're lucky (time travel wise), you're in the early rat-infested era of Sydney (there are no time travel insurance policies). Take an afternoon stroll through the hospital where the nurses are all Catkind, and you're in the indeterminate future far from here. Voices, smells, location and decay. All signs pointing to where you are in time and conflict. Mix them all up and something just feels rather anachronistic about it all.

Jazzing between Hindu lore, the modern day and the 1920s, Nina Paley slams a juxtapositional set of trains that converge and dance the Charleston in Sita Sings the Blues. Carrying the same sort of passengers, but with different cars altogether, the conceit that forms this animated musical plays out at least three different stories that core an underlying theme between each other.

Abridging the sanskrit epic of Ramayana, wherein the heroic Rama and his wife Sita, symbol of purity, experience much in the veins of love, commitment and social mores, it is a work that presents the story three times dressed. Subtle in some, parallel in others, the repetition of the basic narrative follows itself in a few different guises. Each one as tragic and as telling of its own time.

Serving up the dish of Hindu mythology, voices of Aseem Chhabra, Bhavana Nagulapally and Manish Acharya as shadow puppets add footnotes to The Ramayan. Essentially schooling and dissecting the poem as the entertainment plays out. Edutainment, here it is. Interjecting as they are, the constant brushing up does the main story both well but a disservice for those wanting to linger with questions for after the close of the curtain.

Sita puppets sing the contamination blues
Shadow puppetry of Hindu poetry

Their irreverent take and attitude in shadow puppet discussion plys a soft edge of humour that ponders and interrogates the motivations of the film source. Mostly asking why Sita would be so unconditionally in love with and for her husband who without a pause turns her over for sacrifice at any attempt to calm his jealous and insecure emotional state.

Bold facing sprites take us bulk the way as a dead Annette Hanshaw sings many scratch recorded tunes from the long done era of the 1920s. Fulfilling the musical portion of the feature, the songs story the tale of Rama to spin it from the perspective of Sita. As modern as the animation flickers, soon as Hanshaw pipes them blues, there's an undeniable feeling of being in the wrong time, an odour cracks through the air and the daylight swims behind the overcast.

Jarring in a sense, it works to underscore the scene and development of the story to that point. A punctuation that manages an extra dimension of discourse, the soundtrack is basically a perfect selection of Hanshaw's performances that dovetail neatly into the socket joints. Sadness, melancholy and touches of joy jump back and forth with a smooth flow in the melodic decanting.

Like commercial telly and cutting between the shilling and the whispering TV program, throttling up and down the volume as the songs kick and swing and needle off showcases the passive interactive nature otherwise not advertised. Sever the remote from the computer and it's a bit of exercise while feasting on some entertainment.

Meanwhile, afterthought to all this is the squiggly section featuring Paley herself. Few bits and pieces with a cat's tail and a flight of no return back from India, the thread in this cotton doesn't ball up well for a strong anything other than to highlight. But at least the kids can get high from sniffing the textas if they plunge nostril-deep hard enough.

Great way to pick up the main thrust and tenor of the Ramayan. Being in the right mood or frame of mind that settles nicely to absorb emotional examination and wonder at such devotion in the face of disbelief is the hardest part.

That's all.

Ethan Switch

Reviewed on Friday, 5 June 2009

The Wax Conspiracy



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