‘India is sinking into dark hole of hate and bigotry’: Leena Manimekalai on Kali row

The backlash has been "horrendous", says Manimekalai. "They are attacking everyone in my crew, my family, friends and even the people who follow me on social media handles. This mob mafia violence is where we have arrived as a society"

Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai is not cowed down by the trolling on social media. I have nothing to lose. I want to be with a voice that speaks without fear of anything until it is. If the price is my life, I will give it, she tweeted

“India is sinking into a dark hole of hate and bigotry. This is not the country I was born and grew up into,” said a defiant filmmaker and poet, Leena Manimekalai from Toronto, on the backlash she received for her recent documentary poster, particularly on Twitter.

Since Monday (July 4) morning, #arrestleenamanimekalai hashtag has been trending.

In a complaint to the Delhi Police and the Home Ministry, Ajay Gautam, who heads the ‘Gau Mahasabha’, has called for an FIR against the filmmaker and a ban on her documentary stating that it hurts religious sentiments.

Controversial poster

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It all started when Leena tweeted about a poster of her documentary which shows a woman dressed up as Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette. A flag of the LGBT community is seen in the background.

In an interview with The Federal, Manimekalai, who is in Toronto where she is pursuing her masters in fine arts in film at York University, said: “The current Hindu fundamentalist fascist regime has erased all the rich legacy of democracy, diversity and pluralism of this country. These bigots have nothing to do with faith. They are dividing the people in the name of religion and cashing on hate.”

Further, replying to a question on whether she expected this kind of a response to her poster, she said, “It is horrendous. They are just attacking everyone in my crew, my family, my friends and even the people who follow me on social media handles. This mob mafia violence is where we have arrived as a society.”

“They are sowing the seeds of hate but we have to stop harvesting it. This country is now getting tilled for genocide of minorities,” she said on a sad note, adding that “it is already too late.”

Canada’s multiculturalism

Explaining how the documentary came about, Manimekalai said the film was part of the programme “Under the tent”, managed by Canada Chair of Excellence for research creation in Migration, Toronto Metropoliton University. “I was one of the cohorts that had film grads across Canada and Kaali, a performance documentary, is my submission – my creative piece on Canada’s multiculturalism,” she said.

Also read: Indian mission in Canada urges authorities to withdraw ‘provocative material’

The film is about Kaali, the goddess, who descends upon a BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour), queer Tamil filmmaker, she said, who takes a quintessential trip through the streets of downtown Toronto. “While she chooses to walk in the streets of downtown Toronto, she meets up with people of varied ethnicities, color, race and language. She shares a cigarette with a street dweller at the Park. She simply celebrates life and embraces love as a goddess of free spirit,” said Manimekalai, who wants everyone to look at the poster as reflecting that moment of humanity, compassion and sharing.

Manimekalai, who was recently selected by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) as one of their Breakthrough India talents, making her outlier work more visible, however seems resolute and is ready to fight this out.

“I have nothing to lose. I want to be with a voice that speaks without fear of anything until it is. If the price is my life, I will give it,” Leena Manimekalai had tweeted in response to attacks on social media. Since then, Manimekalai has gone off social media.

The documentary Kaali was part of the “Rhythms of Canada” segment at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, said a tweet by the filmmaker. On Saturday (July 2), Manimekalai had posted this tweet sharing the launch of her recent film playing at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

“Super thrilled to share the launch of my recent film – today at @AgaKhanMuseum as part of its ‘Rhythms of Canada’. Feeling pumped with my CREW,” Leena tweeted. But, before long, the hate mail started to pour in.

Call for action

As users slammed the poster, the hashtag #ArrestLeenaManimekal trended on Twitter. Many said that this must not be tolerated in the name of freedom of expression and demanded strict action against the filmmaker.

Manimekalai is not new to being trolled. She told The Federal that her filmography and bibliography have gone through all the dark alleys of censorship and attacks. “My filmography and bibliography have gone through all the dark alleys of censorship and attacks. But when I am creating, I don’t allow self-censorship to block my way. I create, I own and take all the bruises in the process. That’s been my path,” she stressed.

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