FIRs in Delhi, UP Against Leena Manimekalai for 'Kaali' Documentary Film Poster

The poster for 'Kaali' shows a woman dressed as a Hindu goddess smoking a cigarette, with a pride flag in the background.

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New Delhi: The Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police have registered cases against documentary film Kaali and director Leena Manimekalai for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and the Indian high commission asked the Canadian government to take down all “provocative material” in the film.

The cases come after controversy erupted over the film’s poster, which shows a woman dressed as a Hindu goddess smoking a cigarette, with a pride flag in the background. The film was released in Canada.

According to the Indian Express, the police received several complaints against the poster and Canada-based Manimekalai. One of the complaints was filed by BJP leader Shivam Chhabra, who stated, “Movie director Leena Manimekalai posted a tweet on June 2 about her documentary film ‘Kaali’ and shared its poster. In her tweet, she said the poster was released at Canada Film Festival and that she’s excited about the film…the poster shows Kaali Maa (goddess) smoking a cigarette. The goddess is holding a Trishul in one hand and an LGBTQ flag in the other hand.” A member of a group going by the name ‘Gau Mahasabha’ also filed a complaint.

According to news agency PTI, a senior Delhi police officer said on Tuesday that from the contents of a complaint and the social media post, prima facie an offence under sections 153A and 295A of the IPC was made out and a case registered against Manimekalai at the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operation (IFSO) unit of the Special Cell.

While Section 153A deals with the offence of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, Section 295A relates to deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class.

A probe in the matter has been launched, the officer said, adding the case was filed on the basis of a complaint received from a lawyer.

In Lucknow, the FIR was registered at the Hazratganj police station against Manimekalai, producer of Kaali Asha Associates and editor Shravan Onachan on Monday night. The FIR was lodged under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and sections 66 and 67 of the Information Technology(IT) Act, the police added.

Earlier, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa urged the Canadian authorities to take down all “provocative material” related to the film.

Manimekalai shared the poster on Twitter on Saturday. Members of the Hindu right soon objected, with the hashtag ‘Arrest Leena Manimekalai’, and allegations that the filmmaker was hurting religious sentiments.

A statement issued by the High Commission of India in Ottawa on Monday said that it had received complaints from leaders of the Hindu community in Canada about the “disrespectful depiction” of Hindu gods on the poster of the film showcased as part of the ‘Under the Tent’ project at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

“Our Consulate General in Toronto has conveyed these concerns to the organisers of the event. We are also informed that several Hindu groups have approached authorities in Canada to take action,” the statement read.

Manimekalai, who was born in Madurai in Tamil Nadu, on Monday said she will continue to use her voice fearlessly while she is alive.

“I have nothing to lose. Till the time I live, I wish to live with a voice that speaks what I believe without fear. If the price for that is my life, it can be given,” Manimekalai wrote in a Twitter post in Tamil in response to an article on the controversy.

“The film is about the events during Kaali’s strolls through the streets of Toronto city one fine evening. If they watch the movie, they will put the hashtag ‘love you Leena Manimekalai’ rather than ‘Arrest Leena Manimekalai’,” she added in reply to another article.

Manimekalai, who made her feature directorial debut with 2021’s Maadathy – An Unfairy Tale, isn’t the first filmmaker to find herself in a controversy over religious references.

In 2017, for instance, filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan courted controversy over the title of his Malayalam film Sexy Durga, which explored religious divides in Kerala society. The film was later rechristened S Durga. Last year, Prime Video’s political saga Tandav was at the centre of trouble for a scene depicting Lord Shiva in a college theatre programme. The scene was eventually dropped and the streamer issued an apology.

(With PTI inputs)

Note: This article was originally published at 3:45 pm on July 5, 2022 and republished wat 9:25 pm on July 5, 2022 with details of the case filed in Uttar Pradesh.