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Kaali Poster row: Two FIRs Filed Against Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai in Delhi, UP

‘Kaali’, which portrays Manimekalai dressed up as the goddess Kali while holding a LGBTQ+ pride flag in one hand and smoking a cigarette, stoked a controversy that led to filing of FIRs against the filmmaker.
Kaali Poster row: Two FIRs Filed Against Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai in Delhi, UP

Poster of Kaali. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@LeenaManimekali

The Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police registered FIRs against filmmaker Leena Manimekalai on Tuesday for allegedly hurting religious sentiment with her new documentary film’s poster, The Indian Express reported. The poster of the film, ‘Kaali’, which documents a performance act, portrays Manimekalai dressed up as the goddess Kali while holding a LGBTQ+ pride flag in one hand and smoking a cigarette.  

The Delhi Police stated that its cyber crime unit or IFSO (The Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations) unit filed an FIR under the Indian Penal Code sections 153A and 295A regarding the controversial film poster, The Indian Express reported. According to news agency ANI, the UP Police filed the FIR against the filmmaker on charges of criminal conspiracy, offence in place of worship, deliberately hurting religious sentiments, and intention to provoke breach of peace.  

Ajay Gautam, head of ‘Gau Mahasabha’, had filed a complaint with the Delhi Police and the Home Ministry,  calling for an FIR against Manimekalai and a ban on ‘Kaali’ while claiming that the film hurts religious sentiments, The Federal reported

Kaali was first screened on July 2 at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto during Rhythms of Canada, a week-long festival celebrating multiculturalism in the country. The creative research project ‘Under the Tent’, as part of which the film was made, has also put a brief statement on their webpage that appears to be referring to the controversy. The statement reads, “We regret that certain content in our Under the Tent presentation on Saturday, July 2nd has caused offense and we are taking steps to address this. We are committed to equity, diversity and inclusion while at the same time respecting the diversity of beliefs and points of view in our society.” 

Following an outrage among certain section of social media users over the poster that Manimekalai shared on her Twitter page, #ArrestLeenaManimekalai started trending on Twitter. According to the Indian Express, the Canada-based filmmaker reacted to the online war of words and tweeted: “The film revolves around the events that take place one evening, when Kali appears and strolls the streets of Toronto. If you see the picture, don’t put the hashtag ‘arrest Leena manimekalai’ and put the hashtag ‘love you Leena manimekalai’.” 

After the social media controversy, the High Commission of India in Ottawa, Canada, released a statement on July 4 saying they received complaints from Hindu community leaders in Canada about “disrespectful depiction of Hindu Gods” on the poster of the film showcased at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.  

“Our Consulate General in Toronto has conveyed these concerns to the organizers of the event,” the High Commission of India in Ottawa said, urging the Canadian authorities and the event organisers to withdraw the “provocative material.” 

Speaking on the reaction to the poster, the young filmmaker, who is pursuing her masters in fine arts in film at York University, told The Federal, “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.” 

Commenting on the backlash she received, Manimekalai said it was “horrendous” and “they are just attacking everyone in my crew, my family, my friends and even the people who follow me on social media handles.” She added, “This mob mafia violence is where we have arrived as a society.” 

Further speaking about the film, she told The Federal that the performance documentary is about the goddess Kaali who descends upon a BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour) and queer Tamil filmmaker who then takes a trip through the streets of downtown Toronto; as she walks down the road, she meets people of multiple ethnicities, race and cultures. During this walk, the protagonist shares a cigarette with a street dweller at a park. “She simply celebrates life and embraces love as a goddess of free spirit,” said Manimekalai. 

According to reports, while facing the wrath of trolls, Manimekalai had tweeted syaing, “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.” 

The filmmaker was recently selected by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) as one of their Breakthrough India talents.  

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