Kaali poster row: India urges Canada to withdraw provocative material

Updated on Jul 05, 2022 02:22 PM IST

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. The community was upset over the poster depicting Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette

Leena Manimekalai, maker of the short film, Kaali. (Leena Manimekalai/Twitter)
Leena Manimekalai, maker of the short film, Kaali. (Leena Manimekalai/Twitter)

TORONTO: Hindu groups in Canada have complained to the country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and are also exploring legal options over the poster of a film screened in Toronto on Sunday that they deem offensive.

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. The community was upset over the poster depicting Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette.


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

It said it received complaints over the “disrespectful depiction” and India’s consulate in Toronto had “conveyed these concerns to the organisers of the event”.

A senior Indian official said they expected an apology from the Aga Khan Museum for offering a platform for the short film.

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

It called upon the Canadian government to take “concrete actions to prevent” such “motivated activities” in the future.

The intent, group members said, was not just to counter the film but also to raise “awareness” on the issue of what they described as Hinduphobia.

In another letter, the Alberta-based International Hindu Foundation said, “We want The Department of Canadian Heritage to withdraw funding and support to this project, which is eroding its mandate of promoting Canadian multiculturalism.”

Legal recourse is being explored. The group, Dwarpalakas Canada, has raised the matter with Toronto Police and is exploring options including filing a formal complaint, its director Gopala Krishna said. Community organisations are also seeking meeting with federal and provincial ministers to appraise them of their concerns as funds from government agencies like Canadian Heritage backed the screening.


Meanwhile, the filmmaker has contradicted criticism that the depiction was derogatory. In an interview with the BBC’s Tamil network, she said, “As far as I am concerned, Kali represents a talented, primordial woman who tramples on boundless ‘asura”-ness’, beheads evil and lets their bad blood flow. My film shows what might happen if such a woman manifested within me one evening and roamed Toronto’s streets.”

She said if those making a ruckus over the poster actually watched the film, they “could change their minds”. She said the project came about after she was given a grant for a Master’s degree by York University in Toronto as a global filmmaker and was later selected for a camp by Toronto Metropolitan University to work on a film showcasing cultural diversity, the genesis of the film.

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


    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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