Indian Director Receives Threats Over Pride Flag Goddess Movie Poster | India
An Indian director is facing a police investigation over the poster for her new film, which depicts the Hindu goddess Kaali smoking a cigarette and holding an LGBTQ+ flag.
Leena Manimekalai, an Indian filmmaker based in Canada, has received thousands of threats of violence after the poster for her short film Kaali, which aired this weekend in the Canadian city of Toronto, went viral on social media.
A hashtag reading “Leena Manimekalai arrest” started trending, and on Tuesday two police cases – one in India’s capital, Delhi, and another in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh – were filed against the director and others implicated in the film for a “disrespectful portrayal” of a Hindu god and allegedly “hurting religious feelings”.
The Indian High Commission in Canada said it had received complaints from members of the Hindu community about the poster and it “urged the Canadian authorities and the organizers of the event to remove all such provocative material”.
Manimekalai wrote and directed the film as part of his graduate studies in film at a university in Toronto. In the play, the goddess Kaali inhabits the body of Manimekalai and roams the city streets in search of belonging. In a scene depicted on the film’s poster, she shares a cigarette with a homeless man while dressed as a goddess.
The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, which hosted the film’s screening, issued an apology, saying the film and poster had “inadvertently offended members of Hindu and other religious communities”.
Manimekalai, who was raised as a Hindu in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu but is now an atheist, denied that her film disrespected the goddess or Hinduism. She has defended her right to cultural freedom and freedom of expression in her art and said that she “vehemently opposes censorship that comes from within and without.”
She said: “In rural Tamil Nadu, the state where I come from, Kaali is considered a pagan goddess. She eats meat cooked in goat’s blood, drinks arrack, smokes bedi [cigarettes] and wild dances… it’s the Kaali that I played for the film.
In the days after the film’s poster was posted online, Manimekalai said she, her family and collaborators had received threats from more than 200,000 online accounts, which she described as a ” large-scale mass lynching” by right-wing Hindu groups.
“I have every right to take back my culture, my traditions and my texts with fundamentalist elements,” she said. “These trolls have nothing to do with religion or faith.”
Manimekalai’s film is the latest in a long string of projects, ranging from films and TV series to commercials, comedy and drama, which have been accused of ‘hurting Hindu religious feelings’ in India in recent times. months, in what many see as a rapid erosion of freedom of expression and the cultural sphere under the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata (BJP).
Last weekend, a theatrical performance in the state of Karnataka was interrupted by a right-wing Hindu vigilante group because it contained Muslim characters and showed a Hindu-Muslim relationship.
Manimekalai’s feature debut, Sengadal, and his follow-up film, Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale, clashed with India’s censorship board. The director was also one of the few to speak out as part of the #MeToo movement and accused fellow filmmaker Susi Ganesan of sexual harassment. Ganesan filed defamation charges against her and she had her passport temporarily confiscated.
“I feel like the whole nation – which has now gone from the biggest democracy to the biggest hate machine – wants to censor me,” Manimekalai said. “I don’t feel safe anywhere right now.”