Payal Saxena, the producer of Crime Alert and the writer-director of the web series Ishqiyoun, is amused by the furor over a poster showing a girl smoking dressed as Goddess Kali. The poster, which reportedly has hurt religious sentiments, was created for Leena Manimekalai’s film documentary. A police complaint has now been lodged against the NRI film-maker. “It’s a Hindu girl celebrating her idea of the Goddess. How does it become communal?” asks Payal. “It’s true that people in the creative world have a significant impact on the masses, but not entirely. I have seen several films that show an actor, dressed as Ram, smoking backstage or an actor portraying Shivji, drinking backstage. Such scenes are considered funny, so why is a poster hurting sentiments? What happened to good humour? Many, including me, think it is a badass poster. We live in the age of the internet, where we are exposed to many different thoughts and ideas, yet we will react to a poster,” she adds.
The spiritual healer questions the hypocrisy behind the fact that goddesses are worshipped, but women get threatened and abused in real life. She says, “Kaali is a fearless goddess. But the Hindu girl, who showcased her version of her goddess, gets trolled and received rape threats. Every girl is a Kali or Laxmi, so do you think it is okay to tell your Laxmi that you will rape her? Where are the so-called thekedars when nasty comments aimed at a woman? When the Nirbhaya case happened, the lawyer commented that girls like her deserve what is coming to them, yet there was no outrage at that comment. A girl in Bengaluru gets beaten for wearing jeans, still there was no outrage. But we continue calling our girls’ the Laxmi of our parivaar. We feed kanjaks on Navratras and worship them while girls get attacked every few seconds in real life. It’s hypocrisy at its best!”
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As a filmmaker Payal keeps track of movies and has seen Lipstick Under My Burkha, Fire, Laxxmi and Veere Di Wedding. She found nothing in it that could have affected religious sentiments and believes that the controversy over the film poster has more to do with religious intolerance and resistance to feminist and progressive ideas. “A poster cannot shake or hurt your religious sentiments,” she says, adding, “People resisting a progressive idea have topsy-turvy ideas or knowledge. Being a feminist, I believe in my right to choose, to be respected and equality, among others. Feminism and liberation, however, are strong words and should be used carefully. They cannot become a tool or a weapon. Movies like Thappad and Pink are great movies and depict these words in the correct light. The movie Fire is also a perfect example of a woman’s right to choose.”
Any final words on the issue, we ask the spiritual life coach turned filmmaker. “In men’s world, I am a woman producer and director. I stand alone. My point of view. My Goddess in my way. Don’t push me to the edge, do not shame me. I will celebrate my independence, my womanhood, my version of ME as I am KAALI for you”.