Email-divorced Sita in copyright trouble

March 1st, 2009 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 1 (IANS) Nina Paley, an American animator who fused jazz music and Indian mythological epic “Ramayana” to tell the story of her failed relationship, got rave reviews for her film but is entangled in a copyright controversy.

While Sita is separated from her husband, Hindu divine Rama, in the “Ramayana”, Nina’s husband moves to India and then dumps her by email. That in short is the story of the 82-minute film “Sita Sings the Blues”.

Three hilarious Indonesian shadow puppets with Indian accents - linking the popularity of the Ramayana from India all the way to the Far East - narrate both the ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the epic.

Set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, “Sita Sings the Blues” earns its tagline as “the greatest break-up story ever told”, as the synopsis of the film puts it.

As critic Elisabeth Donnelly put it, media luminaries like “Boing Boing, Roger Ebert, and the Tribeca Film Festival all love Nina’s brilliant cartoon, which links heartbreak, the “Ramayana” and 1920s jazz”.

The New York Times in a review describes it as a “feature that combines autobiography with a retelling of the classic Indian myth the ‘Ramayana’, and that required its creator, the syndicated comic-strip artist Nina Paley, to spend three years transforming herself into a one-woman moving-picture studio”.

“Paley weaves in the story of her own collapsing marriage, and the time switches from ancient India to present-day San Francisco and Manhattan, the images hand-drawn and jittery,” the Times says.

“In between everything else are flash-animation musical numbers featuring Sita in voluptuous Betty Boop-like form - almond-shaped head, saucer eyes and swaying hips - accompanied by the warbling voice of a real-life flapper-era singer named Annette Hanshaw,” it notes.

The film has won lots of awards and honours, including the Gotham Awards’ Best Film Not Playing at a Theatre Near You, and has been played at scores of festivals, including the Berlinale (where it won a Silver Bear) and the Tribeca Film Festival.

However, the use of Hanshaw’s recordings - and the exorbitant amount for copyright that Paley may owe to companies like Warner Brothers, EMI, and others - is what got “Sita Sings the Blues” into trouble and has left it virtually unseen until now.

Because of an exception in the copyright act, public television stations can broadcast music without having to clear individual licenses, and “Sita Sing the Blues” will be shown on the New York PBS station WNET March 7, after which it will be available on the station’s website.

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