Paley has set the story of the Ramayana to the 1920s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. The epic tale is interwoven with Paley’s account of her husband’s move to India from where he dumps her by e-mail. The Ramayana is presented with the tagline: “The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.”
All of this should make us curious. But there are other reasons for admiring this film:
The film returns us to the message that is made clear by every village-performance of the Ramlila: the epics are for everyone. Also, there is no authoritative narration of an epic. This film is aided by three shadow puppets who, drawing upon memory and unabashedly incomplete knowledge, boldly go where only pundits and philosophers have gone before. The result is a rendition of the epic that is gloriously a part of the everyday.
This idea is taken even further. Paley says that the work came from a shared culture, and it is to a shared culture that it must return: she has put the film on Creative Commons—viewers are invited to distribute, copy, remix the film.
Of course, such art drives the purists and fundamentalists crazy. On the Channel 13 website, “Durgadevi” and “Shridhar” rant about the evil done to Hinduism. It is as if Paley had lit her tail (tale!) and set our houses on fire!