Sita Sings to my heart

Sita Sings the Blues is a musical, animated interpretation of the Ramayana interspersed with autobiographical scenes from the creator’s own life. Nina Paley, the film’s creator, blends bright, colourful and cartoon-ish animations styles with Anne Hershaw’s old-time music to create a piece of work that’s almost overwhelming to the senses – it’s totally immersive. Paley explores the story of Sita in the Ramayana and draws parallels to her own life, specifically, the breakdown of her marriage. This emotional roller coaster had me totally captured.

The film selects stories from the Ramayana to tell the story of Sita through three narrators, depicted as shadow puppets, who discuss their versions and understandings of the Ramayana, really highlighting its status as folk tale and fable rather than a strict body of work.

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The back-and-forth narrative style reminded me so strongly of listening to my ex-boyfriend’s Italian grandparents trying to tell a story about things from decades past – building on each other, correcting each other, sharing the same event or interaction from their different perspectives. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that this was totally organic! Paley recounts how each of her three narrators met each other for the first time that day, and their conversation was totally unscripted.

In the film, Sita is a powerful goddess, daughter of the Earth, and Paley tells the story of this strong woman being governed by the desires and decisions of other men. Paley explains on the film’s website that this felt reflective of her own decision to follow her husband to try save their marriage. For me as a feminist, my reading of this part of the story line was of a literal goddess whose faith and love for her husband was both empowering and constraining.

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Sita’s commitment to following the way of Rama, her husband, and her faith in him rescuing her keeps her from lashing out at her kidnapper


In fact, this film perked my feminist antenna a few times. When Sita is captured and held prisoner, her captor doesn’t touch her. When Rama rescues her, this is of the utmost importance to him, that her purity and virtue be unspoiled. In many Western cultures, these same values ring true – a woman’s worth is perceived to be decided by her virginity and modesty. From my understanding, this has strong roots in Christianity. This led me to wonder what the roots are in Indian and Hindu cultures.

Virginal purity


Moreover, what led to these ideas of women’s value and the emphasis on sexual modesty being so universal, so wide-spread? A question that large is most definitely for another time and another body of research, but a small investigation shows that Hindu culture places a strong emphasis on women’s purity and virginity before marriage, and the idea of ‘purdah’, which “reveals itself in civil behaviour, modest dressing and appropriate behaviour towards men” (Rashid & Michaud 2000, p 56).

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This question is something that occurs to me and bothers me frequently – am I guilty of moral imperialism? Of cultural appropriation at times? Of judging cultures based on my cultural learnings? Well, firstly, it’s important to admit that it’d be basically impossible not to factor in my beliefs and values when I view something. I can’t switch it off – I’m not a robot, and autoethnography doesn’t require me to be. I’d like to believe my consciousness of these biases and impacts of such counts for something. But to respond to my own questions and worries, I find some comfort in Paley’s description of “the wondrous complexities of racial relations”, with which she dismisses those who view everything as inherently racist.

Rama’s perception of Sita’s virtue and faithfulness would be the downfall of both of them, with Rama casting out his loving wife and unborn children, despite all her attempts to prove herself.

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No matter how hard she tried, he kept treating her like dirt. Sound familiar, ladies?


Paley saw the failure of her own marriage in Sita, and the universality of failed relationships in Sita’s struggle. I was reminded of my own past relationships, and felt such strong reactions to both Paley’s and Sita’s heartbreak in the film.

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Paley uses ancient stories, old music, and modern animation to tell a timeless and universal story of love and heartbreak- “really show(s) how the story of heartbreak in the Ramayana transcends time and culture.” Despite my being unfamiliar with the Ramayana or Hinduism in any meaningful sense, I was transported by this film. I loved the bright colours and large choreographed scenes, reminiscent of Bollywood, and I felt a strong emotional connection to the two main women. Sita Sings is such an excellent example of communication and sharing across cultures.

Watch Sita Sings the Blues here.



Rashid, S & Michaud, S 2000, Female Adolescents and Their Sexuality: Notions of Honour, Shame, Purity and Pollution during the Floods, Disasters, vol 29, no. 1, pp 54-70


The Art of Autoethnography: Part IV





Below is a table detailing the assumptions I made of the assumptions I had after my first autoethnographic encounter and what was learnt through further literature research. While not all my assumptions were completely wrong I definitely still had a lot to learn.

What I am also finding is that the more involved I become in this autoethnographic study, the more interested I become in the cultural significance and background of the Bollywood film industry. this has unintentionally caused some of my research to go off in a tangent to some extent, relating less to language acquisition and more to the cultural language study of the Bollywood genre. I am finding that I either need to shift to topic of my auto ethnographic study or attempt to refocus.

Assumptions Reflection
The assumption that was made was in relation to the parameters od the autoethnographic research. Initially I set out that I would use multiple media texts in my methodology to obtain personal experience. I believe that this assumption was a little presumptuous. Even though I knew it would be difficult to learn some aspects of the language I did not realize how difficult it would be. I can to the realisation that little would be gain from this experience if I was to continue in the same fashion viewing multiple types of texts to acquire even the most basic level of language acquisition when starting from scratch. In reflection I believe that the greatest personal experience will come from focusing on one individual text and to absorb this text on a number of occasions and then focus my research around this. A number of factors play a part in the change of the parameters of my methodology. The first is the time period over which this research was conducted and the hours that could be dedicated to it. The most important factor was though the lack of a foundation of understanding of the Hindu language. Due to this I have now watched the same Bollywood film three times and each time I find myself picking up on some new words even if only for a moment and reaffirming the ones I have previously picked up. I also become more aware of different aspects of other communication aspects present in the film.
In my first notes I stated that the Bollywood movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was produced using the Hindi language and that because it is a contemporary media text it would provide a context for the language that included slang and colloquial language. ‘Bollywood productions are today acknowledged as the generator of and vehicle for contemporary popular culture in India.’ (Goethe Institute, 2016). My assumption while correct was also limited and basic. The language used in Bollywood films is much complex then simply Hindi. English was used in the film not only when on location in an English speaking country but also the occasional modern words which are the same in both English and Hindi, for example the word internet. According to the Goethe Institute (2016) The language used in Bollywood films has a distinctive supra-regional integrative quality. ‘The code switches between sociolects, standard languages and distinct Persian and distinct Persian or Sanscrit features, jargons with regional variants right through to other Indian national languages such as Panjabi, Marathi, Gurarati and not least English’ This is throughout films in the Bollywood genre.
While this assumption is not related to language acquisition I thought it was important to note that when I first watched this Bollywood film something about the premise of this music seemed strange and stupid to me. Upon critical analysis of this observation I was able to gain a better understanding of why they premise of this musical seemed so foreign to me. I am used to watching musicals that are either produced on Broadway or in Hollywood. Musicals made in Hollywood and on Broadway tend to focus around entertainers because they are focused on making the musical aspect of the story seem as realistic as possible. Though according to research ‘Bollywood is not encumbered with adherence to realism’ (The Bollywood Ticket, 2016). This knowledge to make a better understanding as to why this this musical seemed so strange to me. Unconsciously I felt disconnected from the storyline because it lacked that realism that I am used to in musicals.
Never did I have the assumption that I would be able to gain a complete understanding of the Hindi language simply through studying media text produced in this language. Though I did assume that when were hear of people acquiring a language through media that it is all they have used. It is evident through the research conducted that while media texts provide a great tool in the acquisition of a language, it is simply a part of the process and other learning is needed this can take place through classes in a more formal context, though in a less formal one it could simply be researching on the internet. Aiping et. al. (2016) in the article Exploring learner factors in second language (L2) incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading, states that ‘second language incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading usually involves the process of through reading usually involves the process of learners noticing an unknown word, searching for its meaning, and elaborating upon the form meaning connection’. Learning a language through listening in this case is quite similar, it is all part of a process and in most cases further research is conducted to obtain a complete understanding of the language.


Resource List

Aiping, Z, Ying, G, Biales, C, & Olszewski, A 2016, ‘Exploring learner factors in second language (L2) incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading’, Reading In A Foreign Language, 28, 2, pp. 224-245, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2016.

Goethe Institute (2016). Multilingualism – Languages Without Borders – Projects – Goethe-Institut. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Oct. 2016]. (2016). Introduction to Bollywood – The Bollywood Ticket. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Oct. 2016].

The Art of Autoethnography: Part III


Studying languages comes easily for some and is a curse for others. I am one of the latter. I have friends that can speak multiple languages fluently and yet I can’t seem to get any further than my native tongue. I am somebody who has attempted to study several languages and not succeeded, even with the help of classes, tutors and so on. Because of this I find it fascinating that people could simply use a TV Show or a game to learn a foreign language. Whether is be stories of migrant learning a language through a TV Show or kids picking up a language through their favourite card game, the evidence for the success of the use of media as a tool for language acquisition is overwhelming.

These observations and stories of language acquisition success have brought me to form a topic for autoethnographic study in this area. Looking language acquisition through Asian language media texts. The answers that I am seeking to discover are not just simply can I learn any aspects of the language but also what can I learn about the culture of that language in the process.

Autoethnography is an approach to research that combines methodological tools and literature with personal experience to obtain a greater understanding of culture. (Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2011)

To complete the methodology in this autoethnographic study I will combine literature research relating to the study of languages and testimonials/news stories regarding people who have learnt languages using media texts. This will be combined with the personal experience of using Asian language media texts in order to learn aspects and vocabulary of various Asian languages.

When looking online the extent of language learning resources and tips for learning languages can be overwhelming. To obtain some ideas about the types of media texts to use for this research I chose to collate some of the suggestions from a simple google search and the following table summarises what I found.

Brave Learning –       Listen to foreign language radio stations

–       Foreign language poems

–       Podcasts

–       Surf the web in a different language

–       Foreign language TV channels

–       Read a foreign language book

–       Write a foreign language blog post

–       Play games in a different language

Fluent U –       Browse reddit (thematically-orientated to one specific region)

–       Use region specific social media

–       Play online video games (use Twitch, language specific)

–       Date in the language (try tinder etc.)

Pick the Brain –       Television (Taiwanese dramas:, Korean, Japanese, Chinese Mandarin:, Japanese anime:

–       Foreign film movies and trailers

–       Listening to music in your target language

Franglish –       Listen to music in your chosen language

–       Read foreign language comic books

This research gave me some great ideas for a starting point. I chose to not focus on the choice of language as a driving factor for choosing the texts but to simply find texts which interest me not matter the language which the text was done in. this research will not in no means result in me being fluent in a language but I hoped what I would gain from this research is some vocabulary in a language be it only a couple of words and no more. But what I also hope to gain from this experience is a better understanding of language in the context of these various texts.

What I needed to be careful of was as stated by Anderson (2006) not to allow this research to devolve into self-absorption and that would result in the loss of its sociological promise.

Autoethnography allows for creativity in regards to its presentation, going beyond traditional methods of writing. While my research will be writing it will take the shape of journal entries documenting my progress and research through blog posts on my personal blog these posts will simply provide a home for the Snapchat videos documenting my personal experiences throughout this autoethnographic study and allow me to expand and reflect upon my findings.

To start off this autoethnographic research I will include a brief account of my first autoethnographic encounter, learning a language through a Bollywood film. I choose a Bollywood film for three reasons.

  1. It was easy to obtain
  2. I have watched Bollywood movies before and quite enjoy them
  3. And finally, as this was the first emersion into this research I thought I would ease myself in with the language through something that I was familiar with.

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My progress of language acquisition and the Snapchat videos detailing my personal experience will have to wait till my next post but a few things that I did note are;

  • Subtitles don’t always make sense
  • The pause and rewind button got a work out.
  • It was a lot easier to keep up with the dialogue then the songs due to the pace.
  • Attempting to learn aspects of the language and document it at the same time meant that I did not become involved in the storyline of the text at all and watching the movie took twice as long therefore I didn’t finish it because Bollywood movies are already two hours long.
  • The key words I found myself picking up are the ones which sparked my interest, random words which either stood out or were part of the sentences which had unusual sounding subtitles.
  • This approach to learning a language may help with understanding slang or colloquial phrases in a foreign language but it still only provides you with snippets of the language as a whole
  • It does not at all permit the acquisition of written language.


Reference List

Anderson, Leon 2006, Analytic Autoethnography, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 373-393.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A. (2011). Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [online] 12(1). Available at: [Accessed 30 Jul. 2016].

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. (2013). [film] Johar, K. & Johar, H.