Kaali movie organisers apologise after uproar over ‘offensive’ poster

Updated on Jul 06, 2022 02:33 PM IST
The Hindu community, which wrote a letter of complaint to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, was upset over the poster depicting Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette
In a letter to Trudeau, the group, Canadian Hindu Volunteers, said the film “deliberately shows (the) Hindu Goddess in a derogatory manner”. (Shutterstock)
In a letter to Trudeau, the group, Canadian Hindu Volunteers, said the film “deliberately shows (the) Hindu Goddess in a derogatory manner”. (Shutterstock)

The university responsible for curating the programme and the museum that provided it a platform issued an apology on Tuesday after uproar over a film with a poster found offensive by Hindu groups in Canada. On the other hand, York University, where the film’s director is studying, has supported her artistic freedom.

The film, Kaali, made by Leena Manimekalai, was shown at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto as part of a multimedia storytelling project, Under the Tent, which was organised by the Toronto Metropolitan University’s CERC in Migration and Integration.

The Hindu community, which wrote a letter of complaint to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, was upset over the poster depicting Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette.

“We regret that certain content in our Under The Tent presentation on Saturday, July 2nd has caused [offence] and we are taking steps to address this,”, the university said in a post on the page where the event was advertised.

“We are committed to equity, diversity and inclusion while at the same time respecting the diversity of beliefs and points of view in our society. We acknowledge the need to explore and examine complex topics sensitively,” it said.

A spokesperson for the university also said its logo was used on the controversial poster “without permission”.

In a response to the Hindustan Times, she said the university “did not approve the poster used by the York University student to promote the film”.

The Aga Khan Museum also posted an apology, saying, it “deeply regrets that one of the 18 videos from ‘Under The Tent’ and its accompanying social media post have inadvertently caused offence to members of the Hindu and other faith communities”.

It said the university’s project presentation was hosted by the museum as part of its mission “to foster intercultural understanding and dialogue through the arts. Respect for diverse religious expressions and faith communities forms an integral part of that mission”.

York University, where Manimekalai is a film student, said “students are entitled to display their own intellectual property however they wish, and the university supports the artistic autonomy of our student in the [endeavour] to create art that engenders thought provoking discourse. York has reached out to our film student to offer supports and advice where needed”.

However, a spokesperson told the Hindustan Times that “we understand the subject matter in question involves the deeply held beliefs of many Hindus around the world”.

Both the artist and those objecting to the art, have a right to be heard, he said, “provided the dialogue does not endorse threats, harassment or hate. It is essential that discourse on controversial topics be allowed to take place.”

India’s High Commission in Ottawa had reacted with displeasure over the portrayal. In a statement issued on Monday, it stated, “We urge the Canadian authorities and the event organizers to withdraw all such provocative material.”

In a letter to Trudeau, the group, Canadian Hindu Volunteers, said the film “deliberately shows (the) Hindu Goddess in a derogatory manner”.

Meanwhile, the filmmaker has contradicted criticism that the depiction was derogatory. In an interview with the BBC’s Tamil network, she said if those making a ruckus over the poster actually watched the film, they “could change their minds”.

“I have nothing to lose. As long as I live, I wish to say what I believe without fear,” she said.


    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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