The poster featuring the image was featured on Leena Manimekalai’s independent film “Kaali”. It has been a topic of national debate in India. Local police, diplomats, and politicians are all accused of accusing her director of offending religious sentiments.
The film, which uses an alternate English spelling for the goddesses’ names, was one of 18 works meant to explore multiculturalism at the Toronto Metropolitan University’s “Under the Tent” exhibit at the Aga Khan Musu.
Manimekalai described it as a performance documentary. It depicts a Hindu goddess “descending onto” a queer female filmmaker and looking through her eyes at Canada — and its diversity — through Canada.
She is a free spirit. She hates patriarchy. She demolishes Hindutva, an ideology that aims to make secular India a Hindu nation. She destroys capitalism. She embraces everyone “with a thousand hands.”
Kali “chooses Love” and accepts a smoke from “working-class Street dwellers,” Manimekalai said in an email.
A promotional poster depicts the director dressed in Kali and smoking while holding a rainbow flag, which is a symbol for the LGBTQ community.
Manimekalai, a Tamil Nadu native and currently a York University graduate fellow, shared the image to Twitter on Saturday. The poster quickly went viral and elicited furious responses from Indian social media users, many of whom demanded her arrest. Within days, tens of thousands of tweets had appeared with the hashtag #ArrestLeenaManimekalai.
The school stated that it was committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, while respecting all beliefs and points-of-view in society.
Manimekalai expressed disappointment at the two institutions and accused them of having “traded away academic freedom and artistic liberty to save their skin.”
“It is sad that these institutions are operating in sovereign countries like Canada, bowing to the international enforcement by Hindutva’s totalizing narratives and relentless quashings of freedom of expression.”
Torrent of Abuse
The angry online reaction to the film director is attributed to a “mercenary troll Army” of right-wing nationalists as well as BJP supporters. She stated that film crew members have been doxed and her family and friends have received online abuse.
Manimekalai claims to have been subjected “hatemongering”, as she is able to see thousands of accounts on social media. CNN received dozens of screenshots from Manimekalai, which show threats of violence and death threats.
Kali, the Hindu god of death, time, and doomsday is revered throughout India. She is often depicted as the wife of Shiva and has a long tongue, multiple arms, and blue eyes.
At a Hindu temple, Kadaloor in Tamil Nadu, India, a giant statue depicting the Hindu goddess Kail can be seen. Credit: Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto/Getty Photos
Manimekalai claims that her depiction is consistent with her religious interpretation.
“In rural Tamil Nadu where I’m from… she eats meat cooked using goat’s milk, drinks (the alcoholic drink arrack), smokes beedi & dances wild(ly),” she explained, adding that she was a Kali who “I grew-up with and… have embodied through the film.”
Manimekalai plans on finishing a director’s cut of “Kaali” in order to show it at a film fest.
She stated, “I will keep making art.”
Caption: Top image caption: A photo by the filmmaker.