This is another excerpt from my interview with Nina Paley about the Agni Pariksha episode of her feature-length animated film, Sita Sings the Blues. In this excerpt we’re talking about Sita seeing gods and about how Paley depicted them in the Agni Pariksha.
About Fire, and Agni
NP: That’s Agni.
BB: Right. And several frames back he was much larger. And these borders -
NP: Yeah, these are traditional borders. This border specifically [right hand border] is actually from – with the feet – it’s from prayer shawls that actually sorta tell the story of the Ramayana. So they’re very Sita-Rama specific fabric design. And then all this stuff, these things [left side], came from just a book of traditional block design.
BB: And so here, how many concentric circles of Agni’s do you think you have going –
NP: I don’t know, because they got larger, um, so they were a cycle, not just a cycle in terms of walking and then rotating, but they were also coming towards you. So in that sense they were infinite.
[Note: animators talk of ‘walk cycles’ as a sequence of images that you can cycle over and over to depict a character walking.]
BB: I mean, at one point I counted at least four of them.
NP: Yeah, there’d be at least four. [Counts them in them image.] One, two, three, four, maybe five of them.
BB: And, the various fills, you just grabbed this that and the other thing.
NP: They’re devotional cards. They’re specifically devotional cards so they relate to deities, they relate to religion here. And the idea behind that is that, you know, in a state of so much grief and pain, you’re actually sorta’ crossing worlds, you’re –
BB: Right –
NP: - more in the world of the divine at that point.
BB: Sure sure sure.
NP: And there’s god. [Spoken in a voice that is higher and lighter that her normal voice, with rising intonation through the end.]
BB: I mean, were those little heads there in the print or did you –
NP: Yes, yes. So the torso in this particular frames comes from, ah, Kali [see here]. And Kali has a necklace of heads of people that she’s offed. And that’s actually probably Kali’s bloody knife. But the point of this is that . . .
BB: There was a big net brouhaha about you and Kali [at Sepia Mutiny, here] –
NP: Oh, yeah - . . . Basically each body part is taken from as many gods as I could get pictures of and then cycles through. So the chest cycles through. Sometimes it’s Kali’s chest, sometimes it’s Hanuman’s chest, sometimes it’s Vishnu’s chest -
BB: So each frame is actually a composite of various things that are cycling through.
NP: And the great thing about Flash is that there are multiple kinds of animation happening at the same time. So each body part is animated in terms of its cycling through the body part of the various gods. But then all of that together is moving like this [some gesture?]. Um, I mean this is probably Kali’s hand, that’s probably Laxmi’s hand, ah . . . I don’t know whose hand that might be -
BB: Fred the cop.
NP: Fred the cop’s hand. That’s someone else’s hand. And this looks like Shiva’s head right now. That’s probably Vishnu’s leg. That’s someone else’s leg. . . . If you look carefully you can actually figure out who is in each frame.
BB: Well, you can. I can’t.
NP: I think I had Ganesh as one of the heads as well.
BB: Yeah, you did. I mean there’s a very obvious trunk in one frame.
All Together Now
NP: There she is seeing god. [Spoken in a voice that is higher and lighter that her normal voice.]
NP: Hello, god. [Again, Paley’s ‘seeing god’ voice.]
BB: So that’s what she’s doin’ huh?
NP: Yep, she can see him. She’s been pushed. [Both chuckle]
BB: Is this [the deities] the same cycle that you used before?
NP: Yeah, yeah. It’s exactly the same.
BB: And you just moved it up into the quadrant.
NP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s the beauty of Flash. And that looks like it’s probably Ganesh’s torso there. But that’s still Kali’s knife. And that’s probably Laxmi’s little discus thing.
NP: And there’s the splitting, which basically was like – what happens? Let me take a look at that actual segment and I can maybe try and tell you what I was thinking. [Looks through stuff on her computer until she finds the segment. Begins playing it.]
So, here’s god. Now she’s really, gettin’ to basics. And now she’s contemplating, and she’s changing. Just sort of transforming in the midst of it. [A bit of Palely’s ‘seeing god’ voice at the italicized-underlined words.]
BB: Phase shifting.
NP: Yes. So something’s just happened to her. Oh I see. I think what I was doing was, um, so she starts out as just an outline and then she really sees this, and then this aspect of her starts combining with her. That’s, you know, what I was really saying is in the pictures, but that’s the best I can come up with words for it right now. Ask me tomorrow and it might be different.