An Ancient Tale, Newly Animated

By Lavanya Ramanathan
Thursday, September 25, 2008

In "Sita Sings the Blues," Nina Paley's gorgeous animated retelling of the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic, Paley finds parallels between her own failed marriage and the story of the divine prince Rama and his devoted, long-suffering wife, Sita.

Paley's husband dumped her by e-mail. In the epic, Sita is forsaken by Rama after he doubts her virtue. They aren't quite the same thing, which has caused some to protest that the film mocks elements of the Hindu faith and its deities.

Nevertheless, the full-length "Sita" took the top award at the Annecy Festival of Animation in France, was screened at Tribeca, and next week lands in Washington as part of the D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival.

Created mostly with Flash software, the movie is modernist mash-up of ancient and contemporary: Lovelorn Sita on occasion sings the dirges of a 1920s jazz singer, and in some scenes the animation is bubbly and pop, while in others it recalls the miniature painting style of South Asia.

The highlight of the film is its narration: Paley, who is not Indian, invited three friends who are Indian to gather in a studio to discuss the Ramayana, its wisdoms and its sometimes confounding points. Through unscripted back-and-forth, the narrators (depicted as shadow puppets) bring to life the epic as well as its contradictions.

"Sita Sings the Blues" will be screened Wednesday at the National Museum of the Women in the Arts. $5. 8:30 p.m. 1250 New York Ave. NW. 202-783-5000.

Also at the festival:

· Missing DC Shorts already? Tomorrow at the Goethe-Institut is a screening of shorts with a funny bent: The showcase, called "Displace Must Be the Place," features seven films, including a tale about a white office worker who cannot tell apart the people of color in his office. $5-$7. Tomorrow at 7 p.m. Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200.

· David Alan Grier (playing pretty much the same role he did in "Boomerang") and Jaleel White (Steve Urkel!) have cameos in the cross-cultural "Kissing Cousins," an amusing if slow-moving comedy about a professional heartbreaker (Samrat Chakrabarti) who is undone by his cousin (Rebecca Hazlewood). $7-$10. Saturday at 8:30 p.m. U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

Ticket packages range from $30 for a five-screening pass to $99 for an all-access VIP ticket. The festival continues through Oct. 4. For ticketing, call 800-838-3006, Ext.1; for a full schedule and details about other films, visit

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