Leena Manimekalai is an Indian filmmaker, poet and an actor. Her works include five published poetry anthologies and a dozen films in genres, documentary, fiction and experimental poem films. She has been recognised with participation, mentions and best film awards in many international and national film festivals.
Films and activism
After a brief period as an assistant director with mainstream filmmakers and an intensive experience as a Television Producer and Anchor, she debuted in 2002 with the short documentary film Mathamma. The 20-minute-long docu-fiction is about devoting girl children to the deity, a practice prevalent among the Arundhatiyar community in Mangattucheri village near Arakkonam, Chennai. Her other films too deal with the issues of the marginalised. Parai is a film on violence against Dalit women. She went on the road with her films across hundreds of villages serving her videos a tool for participatory dialogue with the masses on compelling issues.
Break the Shackles is about the effects of globalisation on rural Tamil villages.
Love Lost is about changing relationships in urban space. It is an experimental five-minute video poem from her anthology.
Connecting Lines, which she did soon after she changed her style of film-making from "activistic" to "artistic", is about student politics in India and Germany. The documentary weaves through the student lives of four protagonists, two each in India and Germany.
Waves After Waves explores how art rejuvenates the lives of children, devastated by the 2004 tsunami at the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu. Leena was inspired to do this project while she was serving as a volunteer in tsunami-hit regions of Tamil Nadu doing art therapy workshops for children. Altar is a documentary intervention on child marriage customs prevailing in the Kambalathu Naicker community in the central parts of Tamil Nadu.
A Hole in the Bucket takes a look at the dynamics of water crisis in the city of Chennai in the context of families with different income levels. A Hole in the Bucket was showcased at International Water Symposium, Stockholm, 2007. Goddesses follows the lives of three extraordinary women who go against norms to succeed in usually male-oriented careers: a fisherwoman, a gravedigger and a funeral singer and it won her the prestigious Golden Conch at the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2008.
Manimekalai has taken up a visual art fellowship with PSBT on Tamil Women Poetry and Desire through the ages of Sangam, Medieval and Modern periods. "My Mirror is the Door" is her visual quest into the Sangam Age Tamil Women Poetry in which she traces her roots as a modern Tamil poet. IAWRT (International Association of Women in Radio and Television) awarded her with a fellowship to make a video portrait "Still I Rise" on Dayamani Barla, the first Indigenous Adivasi woman journalist who turned into a dynamic political leader in Jharkhand. Her specialisation is on "Media and Conflict resolution" and she had been a European Union Scholar in art practice. She has Commonwealth Fellowship to her credits for "Woman in Cinema" and been a Charles Wallace Scholar with School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Leena has expressed opposition to censorship in Indian cinema: "CBFC is an archaic institution and it has to go. It is as simple as that. It is such a sore in the skin of democracy. I do not know when filmmakers will realise the very existence of CBFC is an insult to our sensibilities and collectively come together to bring it down. The 1952 Cinematograph Act has to be challenged if we think we are not stupid."
Leena's first feature film Sengadal completed production in 2011. The film shows how the ethnic war in Sri Lanka affected the lives of fishermen in Dhanushkodi. The censor board initially refused clearance certificate to the film, stating that it made denigrating political remarks about the governments of Sri Lanka and India, and uses unparliamentary words. She had appealed to the Appellate Tribunal authorities and contested the case legally for several months and finally got it cleared by July 2011 without any cuts.
White Van Stories
—Leena Manimekalai about her documentary White van stories on Channel 4
Leena Manimekalai's White Van Stories is a 70-minute documentary feature on enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka inspired by voices of those in search of their loved ones. Leena has a fresh set of challenges at her hand. She is now trying to get across the documentary, shot undercover in parts evading the constant gaze of the military, to a global audience. Leena was inspired to work on the subject of enforced disappearances when she visited Sri Lanka for a literary festival (41st Ilakkiya Santhippu) in July, and stayed back to travel. The stories she heard of people searching for their loved ones, thousands of whom vanished in the last stage of war in 2009, moved her to make the film.
Leena filmed the historical protests of the families of the disappeared in Jaffna and Colombo who were asking for justice, truth and reparation, declaring "No Peace" until their loved ones return. And She followed seven women who shared their stories across the east, south and north provinces. Access was incredibly challenging. North of Sri Lanka is heavily militarised and this is a story that had been largely impenetrable to the media as enforced disappearances also include journalists who are considered even slightly critical of state and its policies. Ultimately the film had to be made under severe vigilance and intimidation by the Lankan military. On one occasion Leena was asked to leave the country and on another detained for hours of questioning at a check post where they confiscated her tapes and denied her permission to film.
Leena identifies as bisexual and came out in her second poetry collection, Ulagin Azhagiya Muthal Penn (The Most Beautiful First Woman in the World).
Support for LGBT and Pride march
"We always have a notion that the metropolises are open to discuss about LGBT than the rural areas. But, it is a false notion. The rural and the tribal people find it easy to share us about the topics that are usually considered taboo by the urban people"
— Leena Manimekalai on Alan Turing Rainbow Festival Organized by Srishti Madurai
Leena Manimekalai along with Anjali Gopalan supported the Asia's first Genderqueer Pride Parade organised by Gopi Shankar Madurai of Srishti Madurai in July 2012. Leena is the author of Antharakanni, the first poetry collection in Tamil on lesbian love. Springing from Tamil folklore, her twilight poems are enchanting with lesbian sensuality. Along with her poems, it has free hand translations of "balaclave" poems of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band of Russia whose rioters are right now[when?] in prison on 'sedition' charges which adds a guerrilla status to the anthology. A Tamil version of openly bisexual Afro American poet June Jordan's cult verse 'About my rights' is another highlight of Antharakanni.
In 2016, she directed a documentary about the troubles faced by two transgender women while they look for a rental apartment in Chennai and the obstacles. It is titled "IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK?" and was first screened on 21 November 2016, and later many other film festivals all over the world.
|2004||Break the Shackles||50 mins||Documentary|
|2004||Love Lost||5 mins||Video Poem|
|2005||Connecting Lines||35 minutes||Documentary|
|2006||Waves After Waves||60 minutes||Documentary|
|2007||A Hole in the Bucket||30 minutes||Documentary|
|2011||Sengadal||100 minutes||Feature Fiction|
|2012||My Mirror is the Door||52 minutes||Video Poem|
|2012||Ballad of Resistance||42 Minutes||Video Portrait|
|2013||White Van Stories||70 minutes||Documentary|
|2017||Is it too much to Ask||28 minutes||Documentary|
|2004||Chellamma||Protagonist||Sivakumar||90 mins||Feature fiction|
|2005||Love Lost||Protagonist||Leena Manimekalai||5 mins||Video Poem|
|2004||The White Cat||Female Protagonist||Sivakumar||10 mins||Short Fiction|
|2011||Sengadal the Dead Sea||Female Protagonist||Leena Manimekalai||102 mins||Feature Fiction|
|Year||Original Title||English Title|
|2003||Ottrailaiyena||As a Lone Leaf|
|2009||Ulakin Azhakiya Muthal Penn||The First Beautiful Woman in the World|
|2011||Parathaiyarul Raani||Queen of Sluts|
Awards and achievements
- 2004: Retro – Ethnographic Montages, Chicago Women in Director's Chair International Film Festival
- 2004: Silver Trophy for the Best Documentary in Europe Movies Film Festival
- 2005: Best Actor and Best Experimental Video in Independent Art Film Festival
- 2005: Best Documentary in Paris and Norway Independent Diaspora Festivals
- 2005: European Union Fellowship for Conflict Resolution in Media
- 2005: Retrospective, International Democratic Socialist Youth Film Festival, Venezuela
- 2006: International Jury in Asian Film Festival, Malaysia
- 2007: Jury Award for Best Cinema of Resistance – John Abraham National Award
- 2008: Golden Conch for Best International Documentary in Mumbai International Film Festival
- 2008: Visiting Scholar Fellowship, Berlinale
- 2008: Nomination to Horizon Award, Munich International Film Festival
- 2008: Nomination – Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Brisbane
- 2008: One Billion Eyes National Award – Best Documentary
- 2008: Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, Birds Eye View Film Festival, London
- 2008: Iyal Best Poetry Award from The Tamil Literary Garden for Ulakin Azhakiya Muthal Penn
- 2011: Sirpi Literary Award for the contribution to Tamil Poetry
- 2011: Indian Panorama Selections for Sengadal
- 2011: NAWFF Award for Best Asian Women Cinema (Tokyo) – Sengadal
- 2012: As Jury, International Women Film Festival, Seoul.
- 2013: Lenin Award from Thamizh Studio (instituted in the name of film editor B. Lenin) who highlights social issues.
- 2014: Srishti Tamil Lambda Literary Award for her book "Antharakanni" conferred by Bracha Ettinger and Anjali Gopalan Advisory Board of Srishti Madurai
- 2015: L’Oreal Paris Femina Women Awards 2015
Leena Manimekalai was on the receiving end of significant backlash and threats of violence after posting an image of the Hindu goddess Kali as a poster for her documentary on her twitter account. The image contained a picture of Manimekalai in costume as the goddess Kali smoking a cigarette with the rainbow gay pride flag. Canada’s Aga Khan Museum, where the film had been presented once on July 2, issued a statement expressing regret that the tweet "inadvertently caused offence".
- "Out of the morality race". The Hindu. 22 August 2002. Retrieved 25 April 2018.[dead link]
- "Leena Manimekalai: Broke but not broken | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis". dna. 6 November 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- "Life through Leena's lens". The Hindu. 22 March 2008. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- Ge, Krupa (11 September 2019). "'The Very Existence of CBFC Is An Insult To Our Sensibilities': Leena Manimekalai on Her Upcoming Un-fairy Tale 'Maadathy', #MeToo, Censors, Poetry And Politics". SilverScreen Indian. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
- "White Van Stories – reporting on Sri Lanka's disappeared". 14 November 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- "White Van Stories: Sri Lanka's 'disappeared'". 14 November 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- Subramanian, Karthik (19 October 2013). "Documenting stories of forced disappearances in Lanka". The Hindu. Chennai, India.
- "On Vidupattavai and the space that queer voices are claiming for themselves in Tamil literature - Firstpost". firstpost.com. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- Karthikeyan, D. (30 July 2012). "The Hindu : NATIONAL TAMIL NADU : Madurai comes out of the closet". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community seeks to increase support base". The Times of India. 29 July 2012. Archived from the original on 6 October 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- "Leena Manimekalai is all set for a cause". The Times of India. 16 June 2012. Archived from the original on 1 January 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Abinaya Kalyanasundaram (27 July 2017). "Real queer stories on reel". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
- Corporation), NHK (Japan Broadcasting, IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK? - Inside Lens - NHK WORLD - English, retrieved 24 August 2017
- "Twinterview: Leena Manimekalai". femina.in. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- "Kali poster: India police lodge complaint against Leena Manimekalai". BBC News. 5 July 2022.
- "Canada's Aga Khan museum apologises after row over Leena Manimekalai's Kaali". The News Minute. 6 July 2022.
- Sur, Arnabjit (5 July 2022). "FIR against director Leena Manimekalai for depicting 'derogatory' image of Hindu deity". The Hindu.
- "Kaali can't be destroyed: Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai as Twitter removes poster". 7 July 2022.
- "Post Kaali poster controversy, Leena Manimekalai isn't feeling safe; clarifies Goddess smoking scene". 7 July 2022.
- "Toronto filmmaker receives backlash, death threats over Hindu goddess poster".
- Abdul Latheef Naha (30 July 2006). "Giving voice to the voiceless". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Archived from the original on 19 March 2008.
- S. R. Ashok Kumar (2 November 2007). "Filled by poignant images". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 4 November 2007.
- S. R. Ashok Kumar (14 April 2006). "With social change as goal". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Archived from the original on 10 May 2006.
- P. Oppili (22 September 2005). "A documentary on students and politics". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 7 December 2005.