Kali poster: India police lodge complaint against Leena Manimekalai

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Leena ManimekalaiImage source, Leena Manimekalai

A film poster that depicts a woman dressed as Hindu goddess Kali smoking a cigarette has sparked anger in India.

Director Leena Manimekalai had tweeted the poster of her new film Kaali on Saturday.

On Tuesday, police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh registered a complaint against the director for the “disrespectful depiction” of Hindu gods.

Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, is worshipped by millions of people.

Ms Manimekalai’s tweet had generated thousands of responses from angry Hindus, who accused her of offending their religious sentiments.

On Monday night, the Indian High Commission in Canada said it had asked the organisers of the event where Ms Manimekalai’s film was to be screened to withdraw the “provocative” poster.

It added that it had also conveyed “complaints from leaders of the Hindu community in Canada” to the organisers.

Earlier in the day, Ms Manimekalai’s name had trended on social media in India as many called for her arrest.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

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The filmmaker, who is currently studying in Canada, told the BBC that the goddess she depicts in her film “champions humanity and embraces diversity”.

“As a poet and filmmaker, I embody Kali in my own independent vision,” she said.

The depiction of religious figures on screen is a sensitive issue in India. In 2015, the country’s censor board demanded several cuts in the Bollywood film Angry Indian Goddesses, which showed images of Hindu goddesses.

Many other filmmakers and actors have faced protests for portraying religious themes or references in their movie.

India has also recently seen major protests from Muslims over comments made by a politician about the Prophet Muhammad. Last week, police in Rajasthan state arrested two Muslim men who have been accused of killing a Hindu man – in a video, they said the act was in retaliation for his support for the remarks.

Several Twitter users said the depiction of the goddess on the poster was an insult to Hinduism and called for legal action against the filmmaker.

Others asked for all religious sentiments to be respected.

Goddess kali idol, Tarapith, West Bengal, India - stock photo

Image source, Getty Images

Vinit Goenka, a spokesperson for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, said the projection of the goddess hurt “the sentiments of Indians across the world” and asked the Indian government to ensure the tweet was taken down.

A lawyer in the capital, Delhi, tweeted that he had filed a police complaint against Ms Manimekalai.

The director, who is from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is a film student in Toronto. She was among 18 graduate students chosen under a programme managed by the Toronto Metropolitan University to make works on multiculturalism.

The film, Ms Manimekalai says, is a “candid shoot” of herself dressed up as a goddess walking the streets of Toronto.

“In my film, Kali chooses me as a spirit, holds a Pride flag and a camera in her hands and meets the First Nations (indigenous people), the People of African, Asian, Persian descent, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims and the mini-universe that one can capture across any cross-section of Canada,” she says.

Deities are a recurring theme in Ms Manimekalai’s filmography. Her 2007 documentary Goddesses was screened at the Mumbai and Munich film festivals. Her 2019 film, Maadathy – An Unfairy Tale, told the fictional story of how a young girl from a marginalised caste group is immortalised as a deity.

Ms Manimekalai says that the scene in the poster depicts the goddess showing love as she “kindly accepts the cigarette from the working-class street-dwellers at the park around the Kensington Market”.

She also adds that in village festivals in southern India, people often dress up as Kali, drink country liquor and dance.

“We artists cannot be choked by the climate of fear. We need to be louder and stronger,” she said.

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