Friday, July 16, 2010

Ritual in Sita Sings the Blues, Part 2a

In my previous discussion of ritual patterning in Sita Sings the Blues I discussed the anthropological concept of ritual and showed how film-going itself can be analyzed as a ritual. I then showed how Sita Sings the Blues uses that pattern in the large, to establish a cosmological context for the core narratives of Sita and Nina, and in the small, the Agni Pariksha, to blend the core narratives together. Now it’s time to look at those core narratives. Let’s start with the Nina narrative.

Nina’s Tale


When the opening cosmology ends, we find ourselves in San Francisco, in the bedroom with Nina, Dave, and their cat, Lexi (roughly 5:15 to 6:30). Lexi wakes them, Nina troops to the kitchen, puts food in Lexi’s bowl, and comes back to bed, jumps enthusiastically in, cuddles with Dave, and they do to sleep with smiles on their faces and Lexi atop the blanket. Then Dave gets a job in India (6:30 - 6:58). Then Dave leaves for India; hugs and kisses at the airport (14:32 – 15:01).

When you take these scenes together with the other Nina and Dave and Nina-only segments it is clear that, when Dave leaves for India, Nina’s rite of separation has begun. We assume that, while he’s away, she continues doing whatever it was when he was with her, but we don’t see that at all. It’s clear that Dave is the center of her world; her relationship with him is what anchors her to society.

In their next scene (24:30 – 25:36), Dave calls Nina from India to tell her that his contract has been extended. She fears that their relationship is falling apart and, in response, Dave suggests that she come to India. Which she does (31:32 – 32:00). When she arrives, Dave is cold toward her at the airport. What is worse, that night Nina arrays herself in her most seductive lingerie, and Dave simply roles over and goes to sleep. Nina is devastated (36:09 – 37:21).



In their final scene before the intermission, Nina gets an offer to come to New York City on business – five days, all expenses paid. Dave urges her to take the offer (43:29 – 44:19).

Immediately after intermission, Nina is dumped by Dave (50:56 - 51:40). That completes her rite of separation. She is now in the transition phase, which begins with the Agni Pariksha. Nina has three more scenes before the film ends. In the first of these she’s in a cold, bug infested apartment that leaks water (60:20 - 61:13). In the next she calls Dave and asks him to take her back (66:29 – 67:02). Finally we see her in a different apartment (76:13 – 77:11). Framed pictures on the walls depict the shadow puppets that have been narrating and commenting throughout the film. There’s a moment where she’s working at her computer and rubbing the belly of a new cat. Finally, we see her in bed, cat cradled in her arm, and reading Valmiki’s Ramayana. She appears to be content with her life. And so we may say that that last scene functions as a rite of incorporation.

Under what terms? If she’d organized her identity around her husband, and he’s left her, and she doesn’t have a new husband or even a boyfriend, then why say that she has become reintegrated into society? There is an answer to that, and a fairly obvious one, but I’d like to pose another question: What happened that she went from begging Dave to taking her back to being content with her new kitty and a book?

Was it magic? Yes. But no. To understand what happened we need to consider the other core narrative, Sita’s.

Sita’s Tale

Whereas Nina’s story is a relatively simple one, presented in a straightforward manner, and in a single visual style, Sita’s story is complex, a bit convoluted, and is presented in three visual styles, one of them featuring three narrators and commentators who both tells us what happens and comment on the action. Because of this complexity, I won’t run through her story event by event as I did Nina’s – though I may do so at a later time.

Nor will I run through it now, in this post. Real life calls, got things to do. This’ll have to wait a bit.


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