No Wonder Sita Sings the Blues… July 25, 2011

No Wonder Sita Sings the Blues…

Last week, the beautiful animated movie Sita Sings the Blues was going to be screened at Starlight Pavilion in Queens, New York.

If you haven’t seen it, set aside some time and watch it:

Roger Ebert, who words contain more truth than you’ll ever find in a Holy Book, loved the film.

Anyway, I say it “was going to be screened” because that never actually happened thanks to a group of Hindus who say the film is offensive:

Rohan Narine, a 26-year-old real estate broker who is a Guyanese Hindu, has been trying since April to screen the film in his area, and had to change the venue twice. His first choice was Shri Trimurti Bhavan in Ozone Park, a temple where his uncle is a priest. But when his uncle saw the film, he didn’t like it — particularly because in the animation film, Sita appears somewhat buxom. Besides, he didn’t like the language, or the fact that some characters were from Brooklyn. On July 20, the latest venue — Starlight Pavilion — developed cold feet as the protest emails crossed the 1,000-mark, each carrying nearly identical text.

An organization that calls itself Forum for the Hindu Awakening protested the film. The emails called the film denigrating and insulting, and said freedom of expression cannot be absolute. A worried Pastor Mathew John, who owns the pavilion, decided to cancel the screening.

Here’s exactly what the Hindu group told followers to send in their emails:

… We would like to bring to your attention that ‘Sita sings the blues’ denigrates Hindus’ revered scripture Ramayan, and Deities Rama and Sita.

People from different faiths live in America and it is important to maintain sensitivity towards each other’s religion, to live harmoniously. Denigration of religious symbols and icons causes disharmony, as it hurts the sentiments of the community being targetted.

How exactly does this movie denigrate Hinduism? It doesn’t. But there are scenes that don’t always show the scripture in the most favorable light and how dare anyone interpret the Ramayana in anything but rose-colored glasses?! A full list of complaints is on their website.

Talk about a group of people who know nothing about artistic license…

A couple examples of the “issues” from this thin-skinned group:

5. False representation : Sita sings with her love for Ram in the forest. The words of her song were… ‘He is not an angel or a Saint and I know that with all his faults, he will still get by’. Then she imagines carrying Ram piggy back. After that she stands on all her fours (like a horse or a dog) and Ram is shown sitting on her back.

(Editor’s comment : This is outright insulting to the faith of Hindus and destroys the reverence for the Ramanyan in children’s minds.)

Key word: “Imagines.” It’s an interpretation of a holy book. Not an anti-Hindu sentiment.

(You want anti-Hindu sentiment? The Ramanaya is full of made-up stories and no one should take it seriously. Booya.)

11. False representation : Sita sings a song saying ‘Ram is mean to me’ and Lord Ram is depicted kicking Sita into the fire at the time of her agnipariksha (Test by fire) and He kicks her at the time of banishing her from the kingdom. Lord Ram nonchalantly also walks over Sita’s pregnant stomach

(Editor’s comment : Does the US government allow its citizens to disrespect and demean other religions ? After being notified about how infuriated the Hindu community is with her film, if the US government does not take any action against her, it will be tantamount to approving of her actions.

Actually, yes, the U.S. government does allow freedom of speech. That includes the right to criticize religion (or, in this case, depict it with liberal interpretation). Just because it’s allowed by the government doesn’t mean it’s endorsed by them. How does this group not know that?!

Also, learn to close your parentheses. That’s more offensive than anything in the film…

There’s nothing anti-Hindu about this film. If anything, by drawing parallels from the Ramayana to her own life, the creator Nina Paley found a way to make the Hindu mythology somehow relevant.

But that doesn’t matter to the Forum for the Hindu Awakening. They’re asking people who have presumably never seen the film to fake outrage and complain about something that doesn’t affect them. It’s unfortunate that Starlight Pavilion canceled the screening because of them, but when it comes to religious purists, you have to be cognizant about the security concerns…

There’s somewhat of a happy ending, though.

Narine did a wonderful thing by screening the movie at his parents’ home — with an audience — and following it up with a productive discussion.

I especially love these words from Sunita Viswanath, a board member for the group Women for Afghan Women

“Attacking this film is an act of such ignorance and small-mindedness when Hinduism is expansive and lends itself to unlimited questioning by its adherents. As a Hindu raised by devout Hindu parents and raising three Hindu sons, I have to say that the people who have a problem with Sita Sings the Blues do not represent me. In fact, Sita Sings the Blues is a wonderful way to keep Hindu mythology alive.”

Absolutely. (And thanks for calling it “mythology”!)

(Thanks to Bruce for the link)

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  • Nathan

    It’s pretty sickening how much they oppose the first amendment. People can express themselves however they want, that’s what allows them to even have their religion.

    They aren’t protected from being offended. Maybe they should grow up and learn to take criticism, instead of expecting everyone to respect their beliefs.

    They can criticize it all they want, but to call for the government to do something about it is just idiotic.

  • “People from different faiths live in America and it is important to maintain sensitivity towards each other’s religion, to live harmoniously. Denigration of religious symbols and icons causes disharmony, as it hurts the sentiments of the community being targetted.”

    In other words, religious people are over-sensitive children who need to grow up.

  • (You want anti-Hindu sentiment? The Ramanaya is full of made-up stories and no one should take it seriously. Booya.)

    Wrong. That’s anti-Hinduism sentiment, not anti-Hindu sentiment. Anti-Hindu sentiment would be something that denigrates the people who follow Hinduism, and that type of sentiment is uncalled for. Anti-Hinduism sentiments are words and actions that view Hinduism as a religion in a skeptical or cynical light.

    Because we’re constantly accused of going after believers when we go after beliefs, I think we need to be much more careful in our wording regarding Hindus vs. Hinduism, Christians vs. Christianity, Muslims vs. Islam, etc.

  • Trace

    Beautiful movie!

  • jon kniss

    This film can’t catch a break.  I first heard about “Sita…” back in 2008 or 2009 when the producers were struggling with music licensing issues in regard to the 1920s era recordings they wished to use.

  • Tom

    Why is it so hard for people to understand that you do not have a right to not be offended?

    Honestly – and I hate to think like this – but if there is such a concern about how a religion is being represented and if it’s such a major issue, then there are other places where those protections are ensconced in law.  In the States a major aspect of our cultural, political and social history is the central importance of the freedom of speech.  

    I have always been more than happy to welcome people who want to embrace the opportunities here – my family are relatively recent immigrants – but implicit in that is a respect for our venerated traditions, the most important of which is the freedom of people to speak as they choose.

  • Anonymous

    A really fun movie, and it made me more interested in Hinduism.  But the reaction from the fundies makes Hinduism seem as tired and boring as all the other religions.

    It reminds me of the time some nuts threw a fit over an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess that featured Hindu gods, and they ended up having to film a special segment where the actors talked about how great Hinduism is to appease the whiners.  One of the  things they complained about was the humorous portrayal of the monkey god.  How the hell do you worship a monkey god and not have a sense of humor about it?

  • Ally P

    Gee what would they say about Sanjay Patel’s  animations on Hindu mythology ( and the stories with them?

  • Guest

    Um, they do realize that Christians (and Muslims and several other religions) are probably pretty peeved about “respectful” portrayals of Hinduism, considering it a form of idolatry or demon worship, right? And so by this standard they ought to be forbidden from speaking positively about their own religion, because it’s offensive to somebody else’s? I would think that members of an extreme minority would be more sensitive to these sort of concerns, but evidently not.

  • Curt

    I’m not a fan of Ebert. I generally ignore his views on movies simply for the fact that he feels the need to constantly express his outrage and opinions about the video game industry despite the fact that he has admitted to never having played a game. The irony of him being used as a talking in this post amuses me.

  • Christopher Spencer

    So, the reason you don’t like Roger Ebert is because: “Oh no! He criticizes the video game industry, but he’s never himself played a video game! The horror! I’ll never listen to any of his other opinions on things not related to video games at all!”

    I think he’s wrong about 3D movies, but that doesn’t mean I don’t ignore his other views. Grow up.

  • I am an ex-hindu atheist and there is frankly bugger all wrong with it. 

    See Hindu gods don’t have a doctrine of perfection. They are flawed characters, which is why I find them quite lovable as characters rather than the perfect abrahamic god. You can ignore their dickery a lot more easily because they are more human and if you had those powers you would get into shenanigans too. 

    It’s a crying shame they pulled it, there was a big fuss about it earlier too.

  • Curt

    Wow…didn’t expect to hit such a nerve. I wasn’t quite so intense about my views.
    Simply put, I don’t particularly like his opinions on the gaming industry, therefore I don’t expect to like his opinions on another entertainment media.

  • Anonymous

    I thought this was a enjoyable and entertaining film!

    It made me curious and go check out some information on Hindu gods and their stories.

    Rarely do we see entertaining artistic interpretations about things.

    (Plus that whole pesky “freedom of speech” thing)

    This baffles me why they would get so upset about this…

  • Anonymous

    But have you actually tried to read his views on other media? I don’t agree with his opinion on video games, but I quite enjoy his movie reviews and he has some very entertaining blog posts.

    Thing is, you don’t have to take everything someone says as Truth or UnTruth. That’s one of the freeing things about atheism and skepticism.

  • I always enjoy when you discuss other religions! Hopefully the next time some visitor complains about you “picking on” Christianity, we can point to your many posts about Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, etc.

    “Attacking this film is an act of such ignorance and small-mindedness when Hinduism is expansive and lends itself to unlimited questioning by its adherents. As a Hindu raised by devout Hindu parents and raising three Hindu sons, I have to say that the people who have a problem with Sita Sings the Blues do not represent me. In fact, Sita Sings the Blues is a wonderful way to keep Hindu mythology alive.”


    Somewhat OT, but I find it curious that Hindus have the highest retention rate of all religions in the United States. According to the Pew Forum, 84% of Americans raised Hindu continue to identify that way as adults, more than any other religious group. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing to say they’re Hindu, or if most of them actually believe what their religion teaches. It seems odd to me that they should be able to keep their belief in gods and goddesses that our society dismisses as false. You would think that being raised in a disbelieving climate would have the opposite effect.

  • marf shopmyer

    This was beautiful – [tears stream down cheeks]

  • Curt

    Yeah, I’ve read a number of things by him, generally when he is pinged by someone who I do read. I suppose I’m being a bit ingenuous by stating an opinion on his other critical works since I don’t read any film critics with any regularity. I’ve only so much time in the day and as such use certain criteria to determine who I pay attention to. Ebert’s baseless criticism of the gaming industry is a good enough reason, to me at least, as to why he isn’t in my regular feeds. I’m not really sure why my dislike of a specific critic is contentious. There aren’t many things as subjective as taste in entertainment media…

  • Guest

    It does kinda humiliate the Hindu religion, not in a truly offensive way,I mean, it dosent really directly, but in a lot of little ways. the main problem is the narrators, they purposely mispronounce and misspell the names showing and caricatorize the characters actions. It’s still beautiful, but I understand why it might be taken offensive, and maybe also the nonchalantness of almost all the characters towards slaughter. I think it makes hinduists fear that someday people who are to lazy to read the original text will study mythology via that movie, it’s a good movie though.

  • Hinduttva

    You are an atheist what can be expected of you?

  • Hinduttva

    The Denigration of Hindu Images

    David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)

    Dear all,
    I would like your opinion on this

  • Jaagohindu

    Freedom of speech does not mean to be insensitive to others faith, nina paley definitely has hatred against Hindus and even after peaceful protests instead of showing sensitivity to other faith she has been bad mouthing them around. Do you go abusing people all around because its your fundamental right the freedom of speech? And of all the things, she just picked the Hindu scriptures and Goddesses to demean, because its the most tolerant religion and never imposes itself on others like other imperialist religions. 

  • gles7

    Oh! yes, well then why don’t we break all rules of civility call each other names. That’s why we have other provisions in the law, so people have some checks. Try to say N-word in african-american neighborhood and you’ll get taste of freedom of speech — Capt. America.  Also, your last point is really confusing, are you implying laws or traditions? Either-way, yes, there is freedom of speech and yes, there are large majority of population that have sensitivities around religious and social issues. Why mess with it?

  • gles7

    My friend, you did not understand that religion at all. Whatever stories you’ve heard about Hindu religion or avatars seem to have confused you. Hindu god concept of Parabramha is for a god who’s without any property — good or bad, its beyond perfection, boundary or shape and gender. It’s our human perception, intellect that sees God in imperfect form. And what’s up with that dickery comment? did you undertstand what you wrote?

  • Tom

    Indeed, why not?  Because of the rules of civility.  There is no law that says we can’t call each other names, but you’re right – it wouldn’t be civil.

    Just the same, you can say the N-word wherever you like because of freedom of speech, and reactions to it could be protected speech – or not.  Just the use of the word, however, is not illegal.  The checks that exist are, as you so aptly noted, rules of civility, not rules of law.

    In my final point I am talking about tradition – a tradition of ours that also happens to be ensconced in law – as evidenced by my use of the word “traditions.”  I am comparing an American tradition to the traditions of people who choose to live here.

    In short, though, neither I nor the law gives a damn if you’re offended by something I, or anyone else, says.  Civil society may be up in arms, and that example of free expression is their right – protected by the very same constitutional amendment that protects the offensive speech in the first place.

  • gles7

    I read some of paltry attempts by this idiot who claims Ramayana has bunhc of made up stories. If one has to agree to this  non-sensical logic, every old religious documents or any artificat for that matter becomes made-up. Also, I think, defamation by this individual won’t hurt God. I don’t think one should pay attention to this crap movie,

  • So where is the evidence for an army of monkeys and a bridge built by squirrels? 

    And if bows were that powerful how the hell did India get ruled by the british? My ancestors must have been bloody morons to lose the technology to make bows that could fire shots that could “end all creation”. 

    It’s a nice movie, its actually the retelling of the Ramayana from a BUNCH of different Hindu cultures. The story of the ramayana is mainly spread orally rather than by reading the original so many changes occur in different civilisation.

    If you like I can even show you a Muslim interpretation of the Ramayana. 

  • It actually does. It means you can say “anything the hell you feel like”. For example *cough* Hemant Mehta smells!*cough*

    See free speech. I should however be able to back up my statement. I shall chose to do so in the scientific form by indicating that he possess a natural odour that is present to all humans and is unique to him. 

    And yes. I do abuse people because it is my fundemental right. Right now the people of my ex faith are behaving like a bunch of dicks. Honestly its a cartoon of the Ramayana. Rama was kind of a dick, the whole chivalry aspect of the Ramayana is really insulting to women not to mention there is the treatment off all Asura as evil including the disfigurement of Soorphanakha. 

    Tolerant? In 1947 we were involved in the BIGGEST riot in the history of mankind causing a MILLION deaths. In the 1990s we decided to tear down a mosque to house a stupid doll starting off incredible riots that killed thousands of muslims who had nothing to do with the original event since none of the people who died were related to the Mughal Emperor Babur. Hindus have big problems with intercaste violence. 

    And the most Tolerant Faith would be Hemant’s old faith. Not ours. Ours is like pretty nasty. Hinduism would be in f0urth place for “biggest religious jerks” worldwide (Christianity, Shinto and Islam). Yes you guys are slightly better than the muslims but it doesn’t change half the nonsense hindus come up with. 

    It’s a bloody story. Many hindus actually leave out the Lava and Kush bits of the Ramayana because it’s bloody tasteless. And it ends with Sita “going back to the earth” (take it how you will…) indicating Rama is at fault. The animation holds true. And they are right, it would have been a lot easier if Sita just hopped on Hanuman’s back and they broke out. For starters all those people wouldn’t have to die…

    I actually prefer the Mahabaratha, its a better story. Less “god fanboyism”.

  • A lot. I presume you are from India?

    Your entire nation is on a strong footing because of Dr. B. R Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru. Do you really think Gandhi had any idea of how to run a country or plan out economic theory? Nope. Those two guys did though. They were actually enamoured with the american constitution so they wrote up a lot of pre “In god we trust” stuff into it such as the obvious secularism of the consitution.

    They were atheists. Go check it out. It’s why India has so much secularism listed there. 

  • Hindu gods are kind of jerks, its part of their character. They routinely do things that can be considered kind of an irritating thing to do. They aren’t nice or omni-benevolent. 

    The Hindu concept of god that you have described is not one that hindus follow then. Hinduism is a concoction of various faiths. For every goat sacrificing nepali airline there are movements to modernise the faith. And no one is out praying the the Eshwara/Parabrahma, people are out petitioning Shiva or Vishnu or one of the many other gods for help. 

    And frankly the hindu form of god isn’t real. It’s another fairy tale. It’s like arguing about how your invisible magical non tangible unicorn is real because it is magenta…

  • The original Hanuman was said to be rather mischievous and but most of the mischief making is saved for Krishna’s stories. 

  • Isn’t nearly every media product out of India a trivialization of their religious mythology? I swear I’ve seen clips of an incredibly silly, possibly drug-induced, version of the Mahabarata somewhere on YouTube.

  • gles7

    Thanks Tom, that was a well-defended argument.  However, I’ll make two points on law/tradition
    and its usage. Police/military use (major percent of the time) fire-arms to
    protect & serve, whilst, anti-social elements use it to disrupt.
    Anti-social elements defy civility and hence, tools used become anti-social.
    Similarly, it is human to be civil and not hurt fellow human’s basic rights
    through civility. Second amendment, recognized an individual’s right to bear
    fire-arms for protection but how often we see a society damaged by use of these
    weapons for selfish purpose — quite often. My points basically convey that provisions
    in the constitution are like a tool, use it for just purpose and there will be societal
    progress otherwise there will be conflicts. It’s human to understand this
    difference and act appropriately. Also, law is above individual or a position,
    but so is, its interpretation. Laws protect everyone minority and majority. I think, one should keep their views civil (including this one) and if disruptive, to themselves instead of expressing them to the general mass. Using first amendment to defend this anti-social movie is wrong.

     BTW, I had an
    opportunity to visit Capitol building, National Archives. I was amazed by
    foresight and astuteness of our (US) founding fathers in crafting bills, laws, amendments,
    towards forming three tenets of our bearing – individual liberty, justice and pursuit
    of happiness. As I gazed at the Rotunda dome, noticed Greek gods depicted as if
    helping with this constitution formation process. I am bit surprised our right-wing
    friends preaching Judeo-Christian as founding principles as well as atheists
    who live in this great nation,  who hold
    law dearly to their chest; have conveniently missed this fact!

  • gles7

    Well, sure,
    that that knowledge might have been lost over thousands of years. There is a
    common belief that Ancient Indians did a bad job of not documenting mantras,
    tantras and keeping them to certain sects, exactly to your point of following
    an oral proliferation tradition. But there’s more to it, according to the
    spiritual aspects of Hindu religion, one has to be evolved spiritually to use
    these Mantras effectively and very few Hindus have been at that level since
    dawn on modern history. British in India (like here is US) used treachery and deceit
    to win land-mass, but that effort lasted more than a century. Indians did not
    just hand over their country to Moguls or British or anyone else.  It took centuries. Point is there is lot of misinformation about Hindu religion. Movies like this one, which are based on incorrect interpretation or biased views of Hindu texts should and can do a better job by properly investigating ancient Hindu holy texts.

    I think, if one uses Muslim interpretation to defame Ramayana, I am afraid this is
    a wrong forum as there’re alternative views about Muslim religion that could be
    as damaging about Islam’s very existence.

  • So there is no evidence of Giant Sentient Monkeys or Squirrel Bridges? Well then I am going to have to say “I don’t think it’s real and it’s just a story”. Consider that there is a Platform 9 and a Platform 10 in King’s Cross. Does that mean that Harry Potter is real?

    And no, there is no one at that level because it doesn’t exist. No one has any magic powers and there are actual atheists (for example the Periyar foundation) in India who go around busting myths of these magic tricks by showing people how it’s done.

    And this seems to be something that would be awfully hard to forget. I am going to go with “this is just people making stuff up”.

    A simple little thing to remember is that there was no “India” prior to the 1947. The Idea of India is actually a british one when it founded the Indian National Congress to help govern the land it designated as India. Prior to that it was a bunch of kingdoms and empires that squabbled much like say the Italy of the city states era. And are you seriously suggesting that a nation of 30 million people “tricked” and ruled 500 million people? 

    Good one british people! All you have done is insulted the Indians. No the british conquered India because India was fractitious and not organised. The british simply played the political game and weighed in favour of weaker states versus stronger ones using them as allies but then making them vassals as they grew in strength till they ruled India and Pakistan  and Bangladesh. They weren’t stupid they were smart and they actually fielded a lot of indians as soldiers as they didn’t encourage the caste system and they treated the lower castes relatively well. It wasn’t conquering “one state” it was encouraging 3 states to gang up one then to betray each other while it cleaned up. They also built infrastructure that meant their armies were well supplied while we were running frankly medieval nonsense and they encouraged a lot of scientific thought and adaptation of technology. It’s a little wonder they won. Gun and Drill beats spear and bravery. For a long period of time they actually were in India and just used the knowledge of what they learnt to improve their own society. 

    Tell me, are you familiar with Chola Bronze statues? Big and amazingly compex things with beautiful details. Real works of art from south India. It’s  actually a form of wax based casting that allows you to forge large pieces of metal with astonishing accuracy and for cheap. 

    Do you know what the british did with it? They built a series of standardised cannons. This meant that they could use each other’s parts and ammunition. This meant that they could produce one mould and actually use the mould to produce more moulds and more guns while we still building them one by one (they never mention that Indians had guns. It makes us sound less brave when they do. Guns came to India with Babur) with different calibres which required special parts and special ammunition. The british built technology while we were building idols. And that is why they won in the end. 

    You mean the ancient Hindu holy texts that people refuse to translate into other languages to prevent it’s purity being reduced? Yes, of course no one understands them since the texts were maintained as a simple way to ensure the cultural dominance of the caste system. Can’t be a good hindu if you ignored the holy texts and the only people who can read them are the brahmin priests so you had to do what they told you to do. 

    Damaging to Islam’s existence? I think of all the religions out there Islam is the one that no one wants to annoy so I am quite certain they are safe. 

    The Indonesians were once Hindu, so they adopted a lot of Hindu myths and legends such as the Ramayana as cultural stories. So, the art of shadow puppetry in Indonesia often tells the Ramayana, except everyone involved in the production are “muslims”. Thus creating a “muslim ramayana”. 

  • gles7

    That wacky comment about “there was no India”, if you can check out indian map prior to 1947 in National Archives in DC. There was India — at least for the rest of the world prior to 1947, get your facts straight. For all that glorification of the British, everyone kicked their rear later on, so much for that bad karma. If it wasn’t for us, you’all would be speaking German by now. Anyhow, I see no point in discussing further.. 

  • I am an ex-hindu, I disagree on the basis of history on this one. Even the british Raj had pockets of India which were vassal states such as the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Raja of Kashmir, the Lucknow Nawabs and the various small kings dotted around the landscape. There was no India prior to that since India also included Indo-China, Bangladesh, Burma, India and Pakistan.
    This is what india looked like, just after the partition. All the yellow bits were “indian kingdoms”, basically the british didn’t defeat indians. It defeated Mughals and Marathas, Cholas and Cheras. And sigh, remember if it weren’t for the british India would still be a series of political kingdoms each fighting each other rather than the only country close to China in development and growth. They gave India a lot of things and in WW2 british soldiers fought and died alongside indians to ensure India’s freedom and vice versa. It cheapens human valour when people say nonsense like this. Everyone did their duty and everyone did it well. And remember, the Indians don’t remember Nov. 11th. The british still remember Indians who died on that day and they remember every nation that served under the commonwealth. From Australia to Zimbabwe. Indians don’t like remembering that they fought in WW2 because it means accepting that SC Bose’s victory would have been the destruction of India, and it is better to have an ideological hero than face the facts that the british were better than the Japanese. 

    The british did India a favour in producing the system to be a Cohesive and strong democracy with well educated leaders. By contrast Pakistan just plain sucked due to the lack of cohesive force, nationalism (India was formed under the ideological grounds of INDIA not various states and kingdoms) and the fact that India is supposed to be secular. Reality speaks a more sensible tune than “magic powers defeated british”. More like “bankruptcy of running a world war forced the UK to cut loses and go back home because it couldn’t afford to police India anymore and this way it would look good doing so”. Not Karma, common sense. It’s not bad accepting reality. 

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