Indian Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai has been facing backlash from the Hindu community after sharing a poster of her new film ‘Kaali’. The advertisement depicts a woman character dressed up as a Hindu Goddess smoking a cigarette. Thousands of Hindus responded angrily, accusing her of blasphemy and hurting their sentiments.
Kaali is a Hindu Goddess of destruction and is worshipped by billions of followers. As the poster started trending on social media, several came forward to demand legal action against the filmmaker.
Hindu Goddess Smoking Cigarette and Supporting LGBT
Manimekalai, currently residing and studying in Toronto, Canada, said that her film depicts a Goddess who “champions humanity and embraces diversity”. It is why she showed the Hindu Goddess smoking and holding a rainbow flag supporting LGBT. Manimekalai played the Goddess character herself and said she was embodying Kaali in her independent vision. However, the depiction of religious figures in movies is highly controversial in India. Many actors and filmmakers have faced similar backlash and protests for religious references in their films. Now Manimekalai is also under fire for showing the Goddess in a different light than most Hindus believe.
Demonizing Hindu Religion
Critics said that a Hindu Goddess smoking and supporting an LGBT flag was derogatory and demonized the Hindu religion. Some accused her of belonging to a specific lobby that made efforts to portray the Hindu religion as Satanic. Some Indians, including lawyers, have filed a complaint against her. However, these complaints in India do not matter as she is in Canada, a western nation where freedom of speech ranks higher than someone’s religious sentiments.
The Director Responds
Manimekala responded to the online backlash by claiming that if people actually saw the movie first, they would be like, “we love you, Leena”. The director, originally from Tamil Nadu, said that people took a wrong impression after only watching a Hindu Goddess smoking. She said in her film that Kaali “chooses her as a spirit” and loves all marginalized people like LGBT, indigenous, African-Americans, Persians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She also explained that Kaali accepted the cigarette from hard-working street dwellers as a kind gesture.
Most Manimekala films are based on different deities, like the documentary ‘Goddesses’ in 2007 and Maadathy – An Unfairy Tale in 2019. In her defence, she also said that the criticism was invalid as Indian people themselves dress up as Hindu deities on festivals, drinking alcohol and dancing.