Tag Archives: Marriage

“Marriage and Maharajas” by Kavita Ramdya

Click here to read “Marriage and Maharajas“, Kavita Ramdya’s review of photo exhibit “Stillness and Shadows: Vintage Photographs of India” at Rossi & Rossi.

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“Marriage and Maharajas” by Kavita Ramdya in the 19 Feb. 2010 “News India Times”

In the Rossi & Rossi black-and-white photo exhibition “Stillness and Shadows: Vintage Photographs of India”, the viewer is taken on an intimate journey in exploring the nature of arranged marriages inside the Indian household and the life of the maharaja and its court after its heyday. The late Bhupendra Karia’s collection includes an assortment of images including portraits of middle-aged couples, India’s poverty and still lives whereas English photographer Derry Moore’s “Evening Ragas: A Photographer in India” is a “study of post-Raj India” where the photographer records the “rich, ornate interiors, revealing portraits and calm landscapes that sensitively record the charm, eccentricity and fading splendour of a post-colonial society”.

The majority of the photographs were taken in the 1960s and 1970s, decades when Karia and Moore’s American colleagues documented the Civil Rights Movement and free love; “Stillness and Shadows” could not be more different from the popular American subjects of that time. That said, both photographers differ from their own national contemporaries as well. At a time when Indian photographers were in the throes of discovering street photography, Karia was highly influenced by Japan’s sense of artisan, hand-made crafts. His was a rigorously honed and practiced craft as demonstrated in the strict sense of discipline in his images.

Having recently returned from the empty yet decadent maharaja residences in India’s Rajasthan, Moore’s photographs of the “majestic palaces and lavish homes and their inhabitants, elegantly rendering the charms, eccentricities, and fading splendour that, in post-colonial society, already spoke of a bygone world” was timely.

The show begins with Moore’s photographs of maharaja’s palaces, spaces once filled with friends, family, business associates and court staff and now empty save the ghosts from its past. Silent echoes bounce between solid columns, chandeliers are dull from layers of dust, and chairs achingly rest upside down on solid wooden tables meant to seat large parties.

Portraits of middle-aged couples who the viewer guesses once saw better days look away whereas their bodies face the camera as if the head and body are guided by separate motivations. One imagines that these marriages were the products of deliberations between families in terms of aligning family fortunes and political motivations. However, in “Couple, Lucknow” (1977), Moore’s couple wear smiles as clear as the photograph itself; they wear the day-house clothes familiar to anyone with Indian grandparents, yet their smiles add a sense of mystery to the portrait.

In “Cut-out of Late Maharaja, City Palace, Udaipur” (1978), Moore playfully positions a life-sized cut-out of a maharaja figure which the photographer then photographs in the soulless court which has long since seen its best days. The photo is a reminder of the maharajas’ demise in India as well as the emptiness of such once-splendored places which, if lucky, are turned into hotels or otherwise relinquished to the state government.

As a frequent visitor of contemporary, modernist South-Asian art exhibits, it was refreshing to read titled works in “Stillness and Shadows”. A common lesson taught in art school is to leave works untitled so that they remain abstract for the viewer and open for interpretation rather than literal and figurative. Neither Karia nor Moore obeys this adage in their works. A birdcage is titled as such.

In Karia’s “Old Woman with Hand to Face, Bhavnaga” (1969), the photographer takes a portrait of a woman clothed in dirty, tattered rags who shields her eyes from the sun or camera flash, a mystery gifted to the viewer. Both scenarios are ripe for interpretation. In a collection of mostly still lives, “Old Woman” is a refreshing portrait; her long, skinny fingers and square face give her an alien-like aesthetic.

“Abandoned Child on Road, Daneti, Kutch” (1968) is a snapshot of India at its worst: rather than lush and green, arid and dead; empty rather than teeming with people and produce. A lone boy, naked, sleeping and crying, curls up in a fetal position on the road side, as if praying to be left alone. What happens to the young boy is anybody’s guess.

“Fathers and daughters looking up, Daneti, Kutch” (1970) portrays a man well into his most senior years surrounded by three young daughters with a combined age of no more than eight years. The portrait speaks to the expectations for large families and the lack of means for birth control in rural India at a time when families needed all the unpaid help they could spawn.

“Cattle in Sabarmati” (1968) is notable for its portrait of animals that are almost completely absent in the show. Cattle sunbathe and lounge in the Sabarmati like holiday-makers in a jacuzzi: lazily. Their bodies half submerged in water and half absorbing the sun’s rays, they resemble sea creatures, they’re evolutionary predecessors. Notably, animals take up little space in “Stillness and Shadows” which focuses instead on the ghosts of India’s past and the unsaid compromises made in an arranged marriage; the silences these photos exude are for the viewer to interpret.

Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” www.bollywood-weddings.com

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“Faiza Butt in ‘The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan'”

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s review of Faiza Butt’s show at the Aicon Gallery London, “The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan”, in the February 2010 issue of “Modern Art Asia“.

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“Faiza Butt in ‘The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan'” by Kavita Ramdya (Issue 2, February 2010 of Harvard University’s “Modern Art Asia”

Faiza Butt is obviously well-versed in talking about her work. She has done it countless times, breathless and quick, at ease yet also distant. Not once in the evening we spend together at the show or at a café afterwards where we continue our “conversation” does she let herself look me in the eye. It seems she has saved her gaze for her canvas.

In The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan at Aicon, Butt’s paintings are distinct from those of her peers’ for their focus on the feminine: children playing, turkey dinners and kitchencleaning supplies. Clearly her role as a mother and wife inform her work. Tellingly, in both our phone calls prior to our meeting I could hear the voices of laughing children in the background. I later learned that her marriage to an English national and role as a mother inspire an autobiographical flavour in her work, as does her youth growing up in a matriarchal family with five sisters.

Born and raised in Lahore, Butt spent a few years teaching in South Africa before attending London’s Slade School of Fine Arts, her first time living in Europe. In East London, she began what she describes as “a crash course in learning the fabric of society”. Here Butt started painting canvases that spoke to her “feminine” concerns but with a politicized and global perspective.

Ironically, two of her three works on show at Aicon Gallery are of hyper-masculinized, fundamentalist Muslim men and yet the feminist concerns which have inspired Butt are loud and clear. Two tales of Whopped Fantasies, a series nspired by the photorealism of Gerard Richter’s work, are two separate realist paintings of traditional Muslim men. The viewer is forced to scan the canvases horizontally due to the visible and linear color lines that layer the subjects. This linear repeated linear pattern is meant to replicate the movement of a printing press, she tells me. In addition to the linear
swathes of pastoral colors that sweep Butt’s canvases, the “western, edible beauty” which each man carries (one wearing plastic, yellow cleaning gloves while holding a cake decorated with a generous amount of frosting and the other proudly presenting a traditional Sunday roast) points straight away to the artist’s original concerns: fitting gender expectations to cultural and religious traditions and making them compatible though they may in reality be polar opposites.

The two portraits are humorously paradoxical through their fusion of religious images with secular values. One the one hand, they wear old-fashioned clothing, but on the other hand they carry opulently-decorated Western dishes as a result of engaging in what is traditionally deemed ‘women’s work’. The contrast is inspired by Butt’s identity as a Pakistani-Muslim woman who married an Englishman and faced the pressures of integrating into an English, Christian family. The image of a Muslim man humbly yet eagerly offering his Sunday roast to the viewer, presumably after many
hours of slaving over a hot oven, expresses Butt’s own personal story in trying to win over her in-laws
and the cultural and religious sacrifices she made along the way.

Butt’s art work and biography remind us that some stories, like one of a woman trying to win over her inlaws by attempting to recreate their seductively succulent cuisine, are universal. Her work is refreshing in its appeal to the most petty yet powerful conflicts young wives all over the world face as a metaphor for the changes that occur with globalization.

About Aicon

Faiza Butt’s works showed at the Aicon Gallery, London until January 9th. The Aicon Gallery is the best place in Europe to view and learn about contemporary Indian art. The gallery, formerly known as Gallery ArtsIndia, originated in the United States, where it began as an online gallery of contemporary Indian art before opening the New York (2002)
and Palo Alto (2004) gallery spaces. After exhibiting the works of established artists such as Laxma Goud, F.N. Souza and M.F. Husain, Aicon has collaborated with such artistic institutions as Tate Britain, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum. On both sides of the Atlantic, Aicon Gallery is noted for its mission of promoting contemporary Indian art.

The London gallery opened in 2006 to serve as a “launch pad for Indian art in the capital” and showcases the works of radical and experimental artists rather than the Indian Modernists whose work is most commonly shown in the Aicon New York gallery. Located in a swanky part of town, off Regent’s Street, Aicon Gallery London is a cultural refuge amongst high-end stores and restaurants where people dine to be seen. As an Indian-American Hindu who moved to London almost four years ago, I remain amazed at the city’s established and well developed South Asian cultural scene.

Kavita Ramdya received her PhD from Boston University. She is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating,
Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America”, visit www.bollywood-weddings.com

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“Divorcer a l’anglaise comme un musulman”

I got a kick out of reading this French blog posting about a letter I wrote to the “Financial Times” in response to Dr. Suhaib Hasan’s first-person article “I’m a sharia judge” (a friend translated the entry for me). I think this woman carrying the sharia law text book is supposed to be me!

http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

Dr. Suhaib Hasan’s “I’m a sharia judge” (Sep. 19, 2009)

Kavita Ramdya’s “Muslim women’s right to happiness under threat” (Sep. 26, 2009)

Blogger’s “Divorcer a l’anglaise comme un musulman” (Sep. 26, 2009)

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“Beautiful Betty as budding artist” by Kavita Ramdya

I enjoyed writing about Betty Draper, actress January Jones’s character in the AMC show “Mad Men”. My husband and I love watching “Mad Men”: the writing is impeccable, interspersed with meaningful silences rather than inane dialogue, and the plot lines reveal much about the historical moment. And let’s not forget the elelgant fashion sense. Betty Draper is a beautiful woman who would spur resentment among women viewers if it were not for her endearing innocence coupled with her potential to blosom into a force her philandering husband will have to reckon with. I root for Betty in every episode. Reading “Beautiful Betty as budding artist” will tell you why.

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s article “Beautiful Betty as budding artist“, a profile of January Jones’s character on the AMC hit show “Mad Men”.

http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

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“News India Times” November 6, 2009

“Beautiful Betty as budding artist” by Kavita Ramdya

Ironically, the most nuanced female character on television today is Betty Draper, played by January Jones on the AMC hit show “Mad Men”. Betty is a blonde, stay-at-home mother and wife whose “girl-next-door” sex appeal and soft-spoken voice reflect an era, the 1960s, when women were generally considered to have less depth than a cookie tray. Mrs. Draper is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College where she studied Anthropology before falling in love with Donald Draper, her elusive husband, on a photo shoot during her short stint as a model in Manhattan. Soon after marrying her mysterious beau, Betty has two children in quick succession with a man whose name and pedigree are based on lies he’s perpetrated in order to escape his origin as a poor, motherless son of a dead whore and frequent target of emotional and physical abuse from his drunken father and his wife in the Depression-era Midwest. The viewer watches Betty raise her newly-arrived infant with as much attentiveness as an adolescent teenager pays his homework on a Friday night. Coincidentally, the baby’s conception coincides with Betty’s only extra-marital dalliance.

Donald Draper, Betty’s cheating husband, is an elusive character. He is a man of few words, but his silence is his most effective tool both in the workplace and at home.  However, whereas Don is written as a character who slips in and out of his colleagues, children, lovers and wife’s lives, Betty is even more a spectre than her husband. She says little, but TV viewers can almost feel the vibrations of an impending earthquake behind her lifeless voice and shining, empty eyes.

I’ve met my fair share number of Betty Drapers. They are women who seem to have it all: a good head on their shoulders, a flattering physique, clear skin, a loving family, an education, boyfriend or husband and often times a job if not a career. However, women like Betty Draper stew in their own self-made boredom. Ironically, it’s the safety, security and stability in Betty’s life that threatens to unhinge her and Donald Draper’s sphere of domesticity: their family, home and marriage.

The antidote to these women’s boredom, rather than join motorcycle club “Hell’s Angels”, party in Ibiza, or hike up the Himalayas, is artistry. Betty Draper is almost inconveniently good looking, but what makes her so compelling a character is her deafeningly stoic, tight-lipped persona, a result of the self- and society-imposed inability to express herself. Betty is a woman male viewers appreciate because she is easy on the eyes and female fans love because we’re rooting for her to break of out of the emotional and intellectual boundaries she’s complicit in drawing.

The challenge that faces Betty and her contemporary, real-life peers is that they struggle to express themselves artistically and intellectually. Betty’s one shot at artistic self expression is modelling which is cut short when she marries Donald, and although she bravely attempts to revive her short-lived career, she does not persevere when Donald’s business partner pulls the plug on her starring role in a Coca-Cola commercial.

Donald studies Betty while she lies to him, claiming that she quit modelling because it takes her away from her children. He knows that she is lying to him and yet he also fully comprehends her potential. However, as a woman struggling to honestly express herself, Betty is of little use to him apart from baring him children. Her inability and unwillingness to conduct herself as an equal to Donald is why he is as heartless to her as he is passionate with his lovers. Until Betty blossoms into a mature adult with an adult psyche, Donald Draper effortlessly and guiltlessly cures his passion for confident, expressive and challenging women by conducting extra-marital affairs. It is no coincidence that his girlfriends include a successful and independent photographer, a business-savvy retail titan and a teacher who loves her job.

What paralyzes Betty from self expression is that she keeps safely ensconced in her suburban home and abhors risk. The men in her life—her father, brother and husband—treat her as if the extent of her God-given gifts are her beauty and feminine wiles. Because Betty has both these qualities in abundance, neither she nor her family expect more from her. She is both blessed and cursed by her beauty, a fleeting gift.

Betty’s options are many: finding the aging process a way to relieve her from the restrictions of her self-conscious beauty, re-enact Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s ground-breaking play “A Doll’s House” and abandon her family, or discover self expression through artistry.

Perhaps the least-destructive as well as highly-constructive solution for Betty and similarly beauty-shackled women is the third option: artistry. Betty suffers from boredom in her suburban home, burdened by uninteresting children and intermittently abandoned by her passion-seeking husband. Her one option for continuing to manage her “householder” duties (as the Hindus would say of her function as a mother and wife) while also living a life committed to deep introspection and self expression is finding her method for artistry, whether through painting, drawing, writing, acting, modelling, etc.

For individuals such as Betty Draper whose gender and beauty imprison them and whose comfortable, secure lives leave them unmotivated, the arts provide a way to challenge themselves intellectually and emotionally by providing a method with which to articulate and express their observations and questions about the world in which they live.

Betty’s life is a blessed one – she is beautiful and coddled, healthy and safe. But her character demonstrates that women in the 1960s, like women now, don’t benefit intellectually or emotionally if unchallenged. Floating through life as if on auto-pilot softens the edges from which creative thought and innovation springs. Betty Draper, beautiful and young, is a television character with the potential to flourish despite her philandering husband and suburban lifestyle. I look forward to seeing, as details from her husband’s past surface, how Betty navigates the social mores of 1960s America while keeping her own individuality and self respect intact.

Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

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“Muslim women’s right to happiness under threat” by Kavita Ramdya

 Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s letter in the “Financial Times” in response to Dr. Suhaib Hasan’s request that divorce decisions made by sharia councils be recognized by British law.

“Muslim women’s right to happiness under threat” – Letter by Kavita Ramdya (in response to Dr. Suhaib Hasan’s first-person column “I’m a Sharia Judge”. Dr. Hasan is a judge with the Islamic Sharia Council and, in his column, asks that divorce decisions made by sharia councils be recognised by British law)

Published: September 26, 2009

Publication: “Financial Times”

From Kavita Ramdya

Sir, I shudder to think of the repercussions for Muslim women if British law recognises decisions made by Sharia councils (“I’m a Sharia judge”, FT.Com, September 19). Sharia law dictates that when a woman requests a divorce and the husband disagrees, the judge will “emphasise reconciliation” and “she has to return the dower to him”, whereas a man can divorce his wife by simply repeating “I divorce you” in front of two witnesses.

Muslim women who seek divorce are subjected to an interview process, pressured to remain married and risk losing quite possibly their only financial wealth by being forced to return their dower.

In the past, it was critical that individuals marry and remain married in order to preserve the safety and stability of a clan, tribe, family fortune, or even an alliance between countries.

Since then, marriage has evolved. It is now the primary method with which to pursue happiness and fulfilment. Muslim women in Britain are cognisant of the fact that they have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

For Sharia judges to question a woman’s motivates for divorce and pressure her socially and financially to remain in an unfulfilling and possibly dangerous marriage is antiquated at best and deadly at worst. Decisions made by Sharia councils have no room in British law.

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“Wedding-Planning Tips” (for Indian Brides) by Kavita Ramdya

Tips

Click here to read “Wedding Tips”, an article containing the top five tips I gathered from interviewing twenty couples in researching my book “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America”.

Needless to say, I’ve inadvertently built an expertise in Indian-Hindu wedding planning. With the vast majority of my friends and family now married, rather than let my niche knowledge whittle away with age, I thought I’d write down what I consider the five most important wedding tips for the Indian-Hindu bride. “The Indian American” magazine published the piece in their July-August ’09 issue, but feel free to contact me if you’d like a copy or have any questions about Indian-Hindu wedding planning!

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“The Indian American” magazine July-August 2009

“Wedding-Planning Tips” by Kavita Ramdya

Discussing beforehand the details of important ceremonies key to a perfect wedding, especially for Indian-American brides who would like to blend the traditions of the East and West.

THIS YEAR’S wedding season for Indian-American Hindu brides is drawing to a close. The days are gradually growing shorter and, before we know it, Diwali will be just around the corner. What can we learn from this bridal season’s many Hindu nuptials so brides to celebrate their marital unions with style and ease? Here’s a list of top 5 tips for Indian-American Hindu brides to keep in mind while planning their nuptials.

1. Discuss the rice ceremony. Let’s face it, your parents have hired at least two to three professional photographers and a videographer to record every moment of your wedding day. You’ve even hired a MAC-trained hair and makeup artist to ensure you look appropriately bridal on your wedding day. For those of you having a Telugu wedding ceremony, be sure to discuss with your bridegroom in the rice on your beautifully-coiffed hair.

2. Decide who buys your wedding sari and reception outfit. Indian and American customs bride should wear on her wedding day differ. Whereas American culture assumes the bride will choose her wedding dress, Hindu tradition dictates that the future mother-in-law should pick what the bride should wear on her special day. Don’t forget married life is about compromise; many of your predecessors have given into wearing their future mother-in-law’s handpicked sari before wearing a self-chosen, westernized lehnga for the reception.

3. Talk about the wedding kiss. Before the big day, it is best to talk to your bridegroom about whether you should kiss on your wedding day. If he and you feel comfortable with that level of PDA (public display of affection), discuss how your immediate and extended family will feel. Also, where in the ceremony or reception can you most tastefully integrate your first kiss as a married couple? Friends and family will enjoy witnessing your love confirmed with a kiss.

4. Make sure you carefully vet who will speak at your reception. After the wedding ceremony, your guests will look forward to a delicious Indian meal. The only thing standing in the way is the speeches and toasts. Make sure you and your bridegroom carefully vet who you should invite to speak at your wedding reception. And, remember, your reception shouldn’t be remembered as a C-SPAN conference. Ask family members and friends who are not only close to you and your bridegroom but who will respect your proposed time limit (five minutes) and won’t embarrass you with sordid stories from your bachelorette party. Feel free to sit with these your expectations for a brief yet classy toast.

5. Practice your first dance as bride and groom. The modern Indian-American Hindu bride degree but often times a graduate education, manages a career and maintains a tight diary of social events with friends and family. Despite the SAT prep, promotions at top institutions, nowhere do Indian-American Hindu women have the opportunity to practice walking, much silk sari. Wedding guests yearn to see a couple express their love gracefully in their first dance. Why not prep for the first dance the way you would for your driver’s test or New York Bar exam? Be sure to practice walking and dancing in a sari during the days leading up to your wedding and be as prepared for your debut a married woman as you were for your first spelling bee.

Remember that for your wedding day, every detail deserves your attention. Although weddings can sometimes spur awkward conversations with friends and family, it’s best to have had these tough conversations so you can focus your time and energy on having a great time on your wedding day.

Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

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Review of Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” by Kavita Ramdya

Sita

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s review of Nina Paley’s animated film “Sita Sings the Blues”.

A few days ago I interviewed cartoonist Nina Paley for a review I wrote of her animated film “Sita Sings the Blues”. The movie is fantastic – it’s funny and smart. “Sita Sings the Blues” is a modern take on the ancient Hindu text “The Ramayana”; the movie picks up when Rama is banished to the forest for fourteen years with Sita accompanying him. However, the story is told from Sita’s point of view; she emerges as an intelligent yet gullible ingénue head-over-heals in love with an effeminate Rama who is overly concerned with what other people think of him. He’s clearly not good enough for her.

I was surprised by how much interest my review in “News India Times” generated; readers e-mailed to tell me that they were eager to watch the movie which is available for free on YouTube. Even readers of my parents’ generation, a generation that didn’t grow up with home computers and are considerably less computer literate for it, were inspired to take advantage of the free, on-line creative content.

Apart from the colourful animation, diverse soundtrack and the East-meets-West look and feel, what does the success of Nina Paley’s film indicate? I propose that there is clearly a market for modern, updated versions of classical and religious stories, myths and beliefs we’ve all grown up whatever our faith. People have an innate desire to listen to stories which explain their origin and their past. In a world where media has exploded to include graphic novels, the internet, HD-screen TVs and mobile phones, we’re seeking stories from non-traditional outlets that also recognize that the world is a much more complicated place now than it was when many of these myths, stories and beliefs were formulated.

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“News India Times”  September 11, 2009

“Rama, Sita and the agony of separation: An animated film presents the epic story of the Ramayana in a format accessible to a generation that has grown up in the Digital Age” by Kavita Ramdya

I recently discovered Nina Paley’s animated film “Sita Sings the Blues” and am compelled to share it with anyone and everyone interested in what happens when East meets West, ancient mythology intersects with popular culture, and artists create “interdisciplinary art.”

Paley’s 72-minute movie tells the story of Sita and Rama from Valmiki’s Ramayana in a way that can only be described as accessible, fun and modern. Her project – to provide an animated reinterpretation of Hindu mythology from a modern and a female point of view – is a risky one but has proved fortuitous for her career: the film has received global media recognition and an enthusiastic response on You Tube, where you can watch the film for free.

Like many great works of art, albeit typically poetry and fiction, Paley’s inspiration for creating the film stemmed from challenges in her love life. After she moved to Trivandrum, India, for her hus-band’s career, he dumped her, leaving her alone to navigate India. However, the hardship she endured as a single, heartbroken woman in India gave her the insight to understand the nature of Sita’s devotion for Rama.

Rather than serve as a “sexist parable,” she writes in her blog, the Ramayana describes “the essence of painful relationships” and provides a “blueprint of human suffering.” Paley likens her husband and his cowardly abandonment to Rama and her own blind love as analogous to Sita’s.

The film, although an animated feature, is by no means a children’s movie. Instead, Paley has interwoven four disparate plots into her film. The viewer is first introduced to Paley’s autobiographical rendering of her failed marriage. The second is the comical back-and-forth between three shadow puppets who debate the mythology’s details and characters’ motivations in the Ramayana. Third, the viewer benefits from a retelling of Sita and Rama’s love story. In this story line, Sita is portrayed as a sickening goody-two-shoes, Rama as a spoiled and effeminate prince and Ravana as the prototypical Bollywood villain.

Finally, Sita sings the blues. Paley appropriates the music of Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer from the 1920s and ‘30s, for Sita to croon in episodic bursts of song throughout the film.

In order to distinctly divide the four story lines, Paley not only provides a different sound track for each story but also a different “look and feel” in order to visually distinguish the plots from one another. The autobiographical scenes of her disintegrating marriage take place with the background of lonely yet cramped cities. The three hand puppets discuss the facts of the Ramayana while textbook-like images pop up to accompany the debating. The story of Sita’s love for Rama is told from her feminine point of view; the scenes are drawn in the style of traditional Mughal art. Finally, Sita’s musical numbers where she fawns over Rama and sings the blues have a comical and cinematically dramatic feel appropriate for the sound of early 20th-century blues music and film.

“Sita Sings the Blues” is by no means the first attempt at dramatizing the ancient love story of Rama and Sita in a modern way. Like many of my peers, I grew up listening to my mother reading Amar Chitra Katha comic books that depict the religious Hindu myths for Indian-American children to learn the ancient stories. It was through these comic books that we learned who the various gods and goddesses were, their relationships with one another and their religious significance.

And who can forget the horn that blows in the beginning of every one of Ramanand Sagar’s television episodes based on the Ramayana? The series, although revolutionary in the way it depicted a significant Hindu text and made it accessible via free mass media so that Indians from all classes, occupations and regions across the subcontinent could enjoy the shared religious story, was somewhat painful to watch as a young child. Even to a young child, Sagar’s special effects were clumsy and the acting overly dramatic compared to Nickelodeon and MTV programming.

In 2003, my husband and I were lucky to see a dance performance of the Ramayana performed by the Lotus Fine Arts Productions. The choreography was stunningly sensual, the costumes vibrant and the tabla sound hip. Significantly, the production was among my first experiences watching dance accompanied with a story line.

Alas, Lotus Fine Arts Production no longer exists, but today’s youth can benefit from Paley’s animated depiction of the Ramayana for the same effect: conveying ancient Hindu mythology with innovative technology and a modern sensibility. You, too, will find “Sita Sings the Blues” worth crooning about.

Kavita Ramdya is the author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America.”

http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

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