Lately, there have been many cases where people’s religious feelings have been hurt by the content of the film or people have been offended for some progressive ideas of a filmmaker. ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, ‘Laxmmi’, ‘Veere Di Wedding’ ate just a few examples. The latest is the poster for Leena Manimekalai’s documentary “Kaali”, where Goddess Kali was shown smoking and also waving an LGBTQ flag.
The controversy is growing more and more every day. Numerous FIRs have been filed against the filmmaker. Also, reports suggest that many authorities have asked to take strict action against the filmmaker. At the same time, there are also people who have talked about the expression of freedom and the fact that every filmmaker has the right to express themselves in any way they want.
We caught up with some of the popular names in the TV and film industry about all the controversy surrounding the “Kaali” poster. Here’s what they have to say:
Sharad Malhotra | Actor
Not only in India but everywhere, there is a sensitivity around the representation of religious subjects. Many other filmmakers and actors have faced backlash for including religious themes or references in their work. Making sincere and thought-provoking films and stories undoubtedly requires creative freedom. However, disregarding the religious beliefs of the public or negatively portraying a particular group of people for the sole purpose of creating controversy and gaining media attention does not fit the creative paradigm. Why pick a topic that touches people’s beliefs and emotions when there are so many other things to do? If religious feelings are offended, there will undoubtedly be outrage.
Prem Raj Soni | Director
I am absolutely not in favor of a goddess being portrayed in a disrespectful way. We as Indians and clerics should respect the religious feelings and love of gods and goddesses. India has a lot of heritage and is rich in culture. As a filmmaker and Indian citizen, I would appreciate and respect that. Creatives can enhance the goodness but not hurt the feelings and grace of our goddesses, and that’s my opinion. Let’s describe our culture and our religion for what it represents and not for what creates controversy.
Indranil Banerjee | Director
In many temples of Goddess Ma Kali, wine is offered as an oblation or prasad, which is considered amrit or pious when touched on Ma Kali’s tongue. Here alcohol is portrayed as something very pious as inferred by the goddess and her devotees. In this case, the consumption or depiction of alcohol is not considered sinful or anti-religious. So what’s the problem if a woman is dressed in Ma Kali’s dress with a cigarette dangling from her mouth? It’s just the human mindset or unnecessarily inciting people to war on each other by using posters as scapegoats. A truly religious person knows the value of his religion and its value. They won’t be enticed by mere movie posters. These anti-religious movements, conveying religious sentiments are nothing but propaganda. It is an obstacle to the progressive thoughts and creativity of a filmmaker. They are ways of showing religious intolerance, anti-feminism and a stumbling block to creativity and progress. What this situation requires is an open positive mind and an education to understand the creativity behind a person’s mind and their vision for creation. No one can create anything new if he is held back by false religious feelings, backward ideas and narrow and restricted thinking.
Nyrraa M Banerji | Actress
Movies are for entertainment only. No one really wants to hurt feelings. I am a Bengali Brahmin. I worship Kali maa. But as an actor, I know it’s a creative story and I’m sure it’s not to hurt anyone’s feelings. We also watch movies that are all fictional stories, just like the storybooks. I would say those who would like to watch, let them (watch). Those who don’t want it, don’t watch it. Everyone has freedom of speech, choice and expression.
Maninee De | Actress
Freedom comes with sensitivity and freedom comes with responsibility. It is very important to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially when it comes to religious feelings. The world is in a very volatile time and I just think creativity shouldn’t be hampered. I would say that bearing in mind how people might take it in another way or misinterpret it, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. There are many factors to keep in mind that could possibly create outrage or hurt someone’s feelings. As a creative person, I think we create something and use symbolism that doesn’t mean we hurt anyone, but freedom has to be paired with sensitivity. Feminism can be expressed with various symbols and metaphors and I don’t really think we need to offend anyone to express our power or strength. I watched ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, ‘Veere Di Wedding’ and found nothing offensive. It’s a story of women coming to power or realizing their true strength. In none of these movies did I see anything personally offensive. People are very nervous right now, so it’s best not to poke a honeycomb. We have to be aware of what we are saying and the conditions all over the world are not really conducive to a lot of things. I do not condemn anyone or support anyone. Let’s just be a little more sensitive.
Sudhanshu Pandey | Actor
I think it’s outrageous and it’s very hurtful for all of us to see a poster where Mahakali has been depicted in this way and I think it’s absolutely criminal to do so. So freedom of expression has to come with a lot of responsibility because ultimately what you do, what you produce as a filmmaker is going to influence society, influence people’s minds . And I think that’s the biggest responsibility because you can’t kind of sway people’s minds and steer them in the wrong direction that’s going to take away their awareness and their sensitivity and their sensitivity to their own origin, their religion, their culture and any other. So I think if you’re going to get so far away from all of this, then there won’t be any society. There will be no boundaries, there will be no constraints and then we will all become animals and I think that is a very insensitive thing to do. And I think that surely should be banned and absolutely must be made sure that nobody, no filmmaker ever takes so much liberty that it hurts the feelings of hundreds of millions of people around the world and Hindus don’t limit themselves Indians only. There are Hindus who are also European, there are Hindus who are also American. And I’m talking about white people. There’s a whole feeling attached to that, and I think it’s outrageous and it’s very unfortunate. We should make sure that we stop promoting and supporting such things that hurt people’s feelings.
Nivedita Basu | Producer
I don’t think Leena Manimekalai did this deliberately to offend anyone or the Goddess because it’s part of a scene in a movie. If you are showing it in public, you want the public to come and see the film. As a Hindu or Bengali you will feel a little cringe seeing a goddess like this. If you’re asking me on a scale of yes to no then it shouldn’t have been done because however open minded we become or accept that we are open to a lot of things I think some things are a total no. Even if a character is dressed as Kali and walks the streets of Toronto with an LGBTQ flag and a cigarette in his hand, I don’t think he’ll be accepted and people won’t go and watch. Maybe there will be liberals who will go see what exactly the film is about.
Charrul Malik | Actress
It shouldn’t have happened. People worship Kali Maa and worship gods and goddesses. It’s not about religion. We must not get creative with the gods and goddesses that people worship, regardless of their religion. The canvas is huge where you can display and exhibit your creativity, so why only focus on religious sentiments. People do such things to get instant fame and a shortcut to trending. It’s in a bad light and shouldn’t be done. I am strictly against directors and filmmakers who use such sentiment or theme in their work. No religion should be despised. Why show anything in a bad light to create hype? Strict measures must be taken. Filmmakers and artists have various platforms to show their creativity and such religious things should be touched. We have seen so many shows like Ramayana and Mahabharata and the daily soap operas that we see, they have such a big room where things can go haywire. If these people can handle it, then why not the filmmakers. Why show anything that is against the norm. Smoking is harmful to health and is also prohibited in public places so how can you show Kali Mata with a cigarette. It hurts feelings. If you want to show something, show it within a certain limit and don’t go too far and don’t cross the line.