Sanjay Patel Talks Ramayana: Divine Loophole
Long before James Cameron's blue-skinned Na'vi of Avatar was the blue prince Rama of the legendary Hindu tale, Ramayana, a beloved mythology about powerful deities, love-struck monsters, flying monkey gods, magic weapons, demon armies and divine love. Nina Paley offered a fresh spin in Sita Sings the Blues. Now Pixar animator and storyboard artist Sanjay Patel (Toy Story 3, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., A Bug's Life) has crafted an illustrated book, Ramayana: Divine Loophole (Chronicle Books), which is of particular interest to the animation community.
Bill Desowitz: What was it like revisiting this ancient epic in a fresh, accessible way?
Sanjay Patel: It's absolutely in my wheel house of training at Pixar and CalArts. What we were taught to practice at CalArts was this notion of appeal, and, ideally, just making something that's arresting. In that way, I [think] the content of the Ramayana is arresting and engaging. And what's compelling about mythology is that it's actually really potent and timeless and filled with archetypes. To be perfectly blunt, I didn't understand much about the Ramayana. I grew up with it but I wasn't exposed truly to the story, let alone the symbols and the archetypes they were presenting. And because I was living outside of my parents' culture, I missed all the conduits for that story. For instance, one of the things that's neat about the Ramayana is that for centuries it was always sung: it was piece of poetry that was recited and performed. And I think that really does the mythology a favor because I think myths have to be reinterpreted and renewed with its context in mind. Otherwise, it does become stodgy and you lose archetypes, actually. So, to this day, the Ramayana is performed during diwali, and it's a big harvest celebration enjoyed by children and parents.
Which is to say, that the illustrated versions that I've seen during my travels abroad, didn't really speak to the broader global audience and people like me who have been brought between two different cultures. So I really wanted to figure out a way to make it compelling to a context and culture of visual icons that I grew up with but in a story that takes place in my parents' world and in the place of India, which is my tradition and roots.