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I Understand Kali As My Denied Existence: Leena Manimekalai

Exclusive Interview

I Understand Kali As My Denied Existence: Leena Manimekalai

Before she sits down on a bench at night and shares a cigarette with two men of African descent, the woman dressed as a goddess had been loitering around in Toronto’s downtown for quite some time.

In the spotlight: Leena Manimekalai

Before she sits down on a bench at night and shares a cigarette with two men of African descent, the woman dressed as a goddess had been loitering around in Toronto’s downtown for quite some time. The people weren’t bothered but bemused. It’s a scene from Leena Manimekalai’s latest film Kaali, which has enraged many people in India for allegedly hurting their religious sentiments. Multiple FIRs have been lodged against her for depicting the goddess smoking a cigarette in the film’s poster. For Manimekalai, however, there isn’t any commentary except the gaze of the people on the streets. She says she is questioning the gaze, the exotic gaze on brown skin which can be a metaphor for Kali. The filmmaker, poet and queer activist says she embodied Kali, the termagant deity she knew of growing up in a remote village of Tamil Nadu.  She had earlier written a Kali poem in her 2013 collection Antharakkanni, the first-ever Tamil poetry collection on lesbian eroticism. In an exclusive interview with Outlook Editor Chinki Sinha, Manimekalai spoke from Toronto about her film and creative freedom. Edited excerpts:

What is the gaze that you question in your film Kaali?

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