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'Kaali, the film is all about choosing love and championing humanity'- Cinema express

'Kaali is all about choosing love and championing humanity'

...says filmmaker-poet Leena Manimekalai, while addressing the controversy surrounding her upcoming documentary.

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Published: 04th July 2022

On Saturday, filmmaker and poet Leena Manimekalai, who is pursuing her film studies in Canada, shared a poster of her upcoming film Kaali, on social media.

The poster, featuring Leena dressed as Hindu goddess Kaali, is seen smoking, while one of her hands holds a rainbow-coloured flag that is a representation of the LGBTQIA community.

“Super thrilled to share the launch of my recent film - today at @AgaKhanMuseum as part of its “Rhythms of Canada” Link: https://torontomu.ca/cerc-migration/events/2022/07/under-the-tent-launch/… I made this performance doc as a cohort of https://torontomu.ca/cerc-migration/under-the-tent/… @YorkuAMPD @TorontoMet @YorkUFGS Feeling pumped with my CREW,” Leena captioned the poster.

Cut to a few hours later, #ArrestLeenaManimekalai began to trend on Twitter, where a section of social media users demanded Leena’s arrest on the grounds of insulting the Hindu goddess and hurting religious sentiments. Some alleged that the Leena is “insulting” the deity to “provoke” Hindus, while others said that Leena smoking while being dressed as the goddess is for “cheap publicity” and asked for a ban on her. Reportedly, a police complaint has also been filed on the filmmaker by a lawyer from Delhi, demanding a ban on the clip and photo, to the Cyber Cell of Delhi Police.

While Leena did not address the controversy directly, Cinema Express reached out to the filmmaker to understand her side of the story and addressal to the issue.

What do you have to say to those who opine that the poster hurts their religious sentiments?

For me, Kaali is an abode of strength, freedom and truth. She is an undeterred spirit. A pagan goddess. In our Tamil festivals and rituals at village temples, pachakaali, pavalakaali, karunkaali and so many avatars of Kaali descend on people as spirits, drink country liquor, smoke-up and dance. That is the Kaali I know of. She descends on me, a queer BIPOC filmmaker and takes a quintessential trip of being, becoming and belonging in the streets of downtown Toronto. She meets up with the indigenous community, people of African, Asian and Persian descent, people belonging to various races and ethnicities in the streets of Toronto - the grand city of immigrants and celebrates life.

Kaali, the film is all about choosing love and championing humanity. Trolls who are witch hunting me are fueled by hate. They have nothing to do with faith. If they are patient enough to watch the film they might choose love. But that’s exactly why they want the film to be banned.

Could you delve a bit deeper into the idea behind the project? 

I am currently doing my Masters in Film at York University as a GFAD Fellow. Every year York University chooses an international filmmaker with a strong portfolio and provides them an opportunity to experiment more and excel in their art practice and also earn a Master’s degree. I was chosen for the year 2020 but I could only make it in 2022, one reason being pandemic and the other reason was my four-tier legal battle against my passport impoundment based on a bizarrest #MeToo defamation case. I reached here in February after the Supreme Court of India enabled my travel and basic right to education, travel and livelihood. Toronto Metropolitan University chose the best of film students across Canada and mentored them to make a film on “multiculturalism” in the program called “Under the Tent” managed by Canadian Chair of Excellence of Migration. I was one amongst them and Kaali was made as part of the program. So the right wing outfits and fundamentalists who are currently hounding me are not only after my artistic freedom but also my academic freedom.

How do you see the #ArrestLeenaManimekalai trending on social media, and calls to boycott you and your film?

The Central government of India is a Hindu fundamentalist totalitarian fascist regime. They are after every activist, artist, student protestor and slowly making the whole country a open prison. They just divide and rule people in the name of religion. They come to power by orchestrating riots and pograms. They are lynching minorities and constantly harvesting the climate of fear and genocide as votes. Just because this regime is leading this country into a dark hole, I cannot self censor my art or existence. Self censorship is nothing but death to an artist.

In this internet age, nothing can be banned. Even defence secrets of imperialist governments are leaked. Art will find its way. My poetry books and every film of mine were demanded to be banned by one or other fanatic groups. I have challenged both constitutional and extra constitutional censorship throughout my life as an artist and a queer woman. But I continue to breathe. Because as an artist, I live between doing or dying. So I will do until I die.

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