Monday, September 27, 2010

Of untold tales and unheard voices, Sunday Express, I - Witness, 26.09.10. Ranjitha Gunasekaran

Tourists come to Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram to see ruins and the searing blue of the sea. Film crews frequently shoot there. And until last year, it was where Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka would be dropped at night with instructions to reach the nearest police station and eventually Mandapam refugee camp.

The people of Dhanushkodi are rarely in the news. In fact, few visitors know that a fishing community lives there braving lack of roads, electricity, transport, and intrusions from the Coast Guard, Intelligence Bureau, Navy and whoever else is tasked with safeguarding the state’s porous coastline. So, when Leena Manimekalai heard of the community, of their untold stories, she felt compelled to document their lives. The film made is called Sengadal.

The documentary filmmaker and poet had visited Rameswaram earlier, to profile a fisherwoman for her film Goddesses, which won the  Best Documentary at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2008. “When I met the people living there, I found so many stories begging to be told. Each family has a widow, or has lost sons or is taking care of an orphaned child. Almost all the fishermen had encountered the Sri Lankan navy about six or seven times. They have such rich life experiences,” she explains.

Leena started with interviews of the people and then decided that to learn more of their lives, she would have to live with them. “It’s a very different life — no bathrooms, no electricity, no mobile signals. Even the dogs there are different because they feed on corpses. Their day starts at 3 am and ends by 9 am,” she points out. “As fishing folk, they are not used to borders and boundaries and for a long time they had a barter system with the Sri Lankan fishermen. But in recent years, their fishing has been restricted — each one has encountered the Sri Lankan Navy several times,” she says.

Added to this is the physical isolation they endure — no one is allowed to remain in Dhanushkodi after 6 pm for security purposes. Even though refugees have landed on its shores for years now, the people here have learnt not to extend friendship or help. “Their compassion has been tested by the authorities so many times that they know helping them would mean spending the rest of their lives facing enquiries!”

It is these nuances of their lives that pushed Leena into making the filmmaking process democratic and community-based. “Shobasakthi, the Sri Lankan Tamil writer and I worked on the script incorporating their stories within a fictional framework but after that we revised the script several times for the community’s inputs.”

Shobasakthi in dialogue training

Since the crew wanted the residents of Dhanushkodi to act in the film as well, Leena held a series of workshops for them. “They have seen technology only as outsiders, so there were problems when they had to participate with it. So we held workshops and shared each scene and dialogue with them,” she explains. This meant much argument, discussion and sometimes disagreement. “Sometimes, they would feel the situation was not as in real life or that a dialogue did not ring true and so we would make changes,” she says. The film also looks at another people whose lives are touched by Dhanushkodi — the refugees.“Again we worked with them, incorporated their stories and ideas — each person has a different story of how they reached that shore,” she says.

Of course such a collaborative process had its drawbacks. “Shobasakthi also played a role in the film. His character had a wife and a child and half their scenes had been shot, since he had only 60 days in the country, when the girl playing his daughter came of age. Her family wouldn’t allow her out for 30 days and the woman playing his wife had her period! With the limitations of time, we had to write both of them out of the script!”

Every cast member was paid daily wages as agreed to by their community — `350 to `500 — so once in a while, if they got a better job for the day they would not turn up. “Every day when we sent the vehicle to pick up people from the camp, someone wouldn’t be available — 17 would be part of the day’s shooting but only 13 would have turned up,” she laughs. However, if they got a better offer the crew just waited for them to come back. The crew itself started off with 60 members, dwindling to eight by the end of the shoot because of the harsh conditions.

The film was shot over 35 days in 2009 and survived despite the original producer walking out of the movie. “His team pulled out with 12 days left of the first schedule. I had to beg and borrow to raise enough money to complete the schedule. Now, there are people who won’t even take my calls,” she chuckles. Finally, Janaki Sivakumar of Tholpavai Theatres stepped in and helped produce the rest of the film that cost Rs 1 crore.

“The film is complete now but I am now worried about censorship. I don’t believe any part of this movie should be cut because the stories it tells are too important. If I don’t get to release it theatrically, I plan to screen it village by village through DVD. Let’s decentralise film distribution,” she says.

As of now, Sengadal has had a letter of interest from the Berlin Film Festival. “It is made for a global audience. It deals with language, ethnicity, borders and ultimately, the simple lives of fishermen and refugees,” she says. “But I would like our people in Tamil Nadu’s villages to have access to it as well,” she adds.


Language is my first Love. My tryst with it is poetry. Conversation with Lakshmi Krupa, IDIVA, Times of India, Sep 24, 2010

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where you were born and brought up, your family, your education, etc.

 I am born in a farmers family, deep down south of Tamilnadu, in a village called Maharajapuram at the slopes of western ghats of Virudhunagar district. My father Late Dr.R.Raghupathy, who is the first generation graduate of our family, was a Tamil Professor and my mother Ms.Rama is real country goddess with her unlimited spirit and energy. My village is a classic Kurinji(mountainscape) land and as so is my mind. Though my schooling was in an Anglo Indian Convent in cities like Chennai,Trichy strictly conditioned by early morning athletics, eight hours of subject classes, two hours of bharathanatyam, one hour of carnatic music, weekend hindi classes etc etc, my body always resonated to my summer life with Cattles, Pagan Gods and Goddesses like Mariamman, Karuppannasamy, Occult, Sithars(Sathuragiri hills), Rain fed rivers, deep wells, Lush green, Cycling, Swimming, Stealing fruits, Kittipuli(country games) etc in my village.

All men in our family seemed to be interested in revolution and practiced hard core left politics holding district level, state level, national level positions in Communist Party of India and all women in the household were running the kitchens,cattle and paddy fields to make a living. I guess all my questioning and rebellion started from that point of conflict. When there were pictures and books of Lenin, Bhagath Singh, Jeevanantham, Bharathiyar, Periyar all around my father's study room, Periyar attracted me a lot even as a child. He made me think why there were no pictures or books of women leaders or writers around. My readings were random till my teens as there was too much of data around you. My student days were filled with Utopian dreams about revolution and all my experiments with poetry, dance, music, oratory, activism, drama throughout my youth were aimed at social change by revolt. 

As any other middle class, studious student, I ended up doing my graduation in engineering and I did fair with an university rank but my calling was ART. It was a difficult and unsafe choice, said my family and many of my friends who were body-shopped to west but I decided to be faithful to my desire and freedom of choice.I happily abandoned my Instrumentation Engineering and started following my intuitions.

 How did filmmaking become a passion?

My initial apprentice ship with mainstream filmmakers like Bharathiraja, Cheran and Jerrold were like an acid test but I always thought I had entered a wrong laboratory. I spent a very brief period out there in the "industry" but soon realized that am not an industry person at all. But Cinema as a tool of expression caught my imagination and for me who had appreciation and training in various art forms, it was a super cool medium. Digital Cinema as a democratic, independent space and not dictated by market enthused me. For me who is in the constant search on finding my own voice and also to make it heard, Independent Cinema was the best. I attached my body to a handy camera, microphone and a mac-book and started my endless drive towards un shed truths and dark spaces. My strong belief on art as an intervention with myself, my life, my society is a constant evolution and am obsessed with it.

 And how did poetry happen?

Language is my first Love. My tryst with it is poetry. I might have killed myself or murdered a few, If I had not known and allowed to write. I started writing to resolve the conflicts myself but slowly realized that it can also be a mirror which others want to see themselves and have a dialog with it or throw stones and break it. I am fine any of the reactions because for me, reactions are important. I believe strongly that giving oneself over fully to life’s experiences and subjecting it to keen and relentless observation are what gives a person the language for poetry and a fertile expanse of ideas. The Tamil poetry tradition or by one’s acquaintance with the discourses of feminism, poetry in its entirety demands an endless enquiry into the self, and cycles of the self’s destruction and renewal. In particular, it is vitally important not to distance oneself from life’s struggles.

As an evolving poet myself with one Tamil poetry anthology “Otraiyilaiyena” (As a single leaf) which has seen three editions so far and the second one "Ulagin Azhagiya Muthal Penn" (The first beautiful woman in the world) which has invited mixed reactions like "Iyal Poetry Award" for 2009, call for ban by some Hindu People' s Party, repressive attacks and attempts to curb right to expression by some left fanatics like Makkal Kalai Ilakiya Kazhagam etc, my conviction towards poetry as the finest form of human experience has only become strong.

How do you decide to make a film on a particular issue? Can you take us through your creative process?

I guess, I should recall my works.

Mathamma  captured the practice of devoting the girl children to the deity of the folks of Arundhati community in Arakonam district and Parai  revealed the status of Dalit population, particularly women in India with the south Indian village Siruthondamadevi as a classic example. Both Mathamma and Parai triggered a successful video participatory movement, which ultimately demanded the immediate government intervention, securing protection to women who were harassed in the name of caste in the locality.  Break the Shackles  focused on how the three track policy of globalization, privatization and liberalization without the interest of social justice in a highly unequal structure of country like India becomes more discriminative to dalits, the downtrodden.  Connecting Lines spoke about student politics in India and Germany, its background, indulgences, activism and struggles pragmatically to reveal the conflict and indeed a dialog for resolution. Waves after waves, explored how art forms magically rejuvenate the lives of children, disrupted by the major natural disaster Tsunami 2004. Altar is a documentary intervention on child marriages and how women and children become victims of religious beliefs and practices in Kambalathu Naicker Community. A Hole in the Bucket,  is a factual story of thirst and  sanitation from chennai, the urban south of India and Goddesses is the notes from the lives of three extra ordinary women – a funeral singer; a fisherwoman; a  graveyard worker. 

I choose subjects in which I can place myself also as a subject without any compromise. Dealing with the community is not like dealing with actors. I am more responsible and I am committed to fight till the end. I have done this so far with all my indulgence even when in certain cases,  you do not get to anywhere .Let me honestly tell you that I really do not believe in change in one night by one film. Change is a long long process.I am just attempting to create a participatory dialog with my film practice. I trial, error, seek and try to find some answers collectively. In the whole process, I try to create a three dimensional cinema and only when all the three elements say, Image - Sound, Maker and the audience participate and interact equally, the film attains its fullest form. 

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on my debu feature film Sengadal. Please log on to
Sengadal the Dead Sea is a feature fiction film which captures the fragments of simple lives beaten by three decade long ethnic war in Srilanka. It unfolds in a fisher village at Dhanushkodi, the southernmost tip of India, where life and death co exist.

What about being socially aware and carrying the voice of others do you enjoy the most?

I do not carry the voice of others. I am one among my people and raise my voice along with them.It makes my journey of life more meaningful. My art practice will not be cowed down by any threat or scandals or character assassination or isolation or annihilation. I will not let my freedom to be taken for granted at any cost.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vagina Tamilogues

Brief version

Times of India
Do you think the works of such women poets have helped widen society's views on women's bodies in some way? Do you see more women becoming aware of their bodies and not being ashamed of it because of reading such texts?

Leena Manimekalai
Ofcourse yes, I would say.Body for a woman in this patriarchal moralist society is a Prison. There is a constant  vigilance by institutions like say state,religion,family,caste on a woman's body. Her roles as a wife, mother, sister and likes are inscribed in her body. When women resist the construct and try to write as an act of subversion, she is again left with the patriarchal tool called language. When a woman becomes aware, questioning arises, conflict intensifies, change evolves. Poetry certainly helps women to become self aware. Lot of my women readers particularly young women readers have written and spoken to me about how poetry helped them to negotiate the guilt  they have been conditioned about their bodies, desire and identities.

Times of India
Are you seeing more women poets emerging in this field? Women like Salma, Kutti Revathi and Malathi Maithri gained fame in the early 90s for their work but have you seen younger entrants in the field since then?

Leena Manimekalai
It is not early 90s. It is in the beginning of 2000. This is the period when non Brahman and Dalit women  came as a force in tamil literary expression. It is an out burst of long history of oppression and denial to knowledge, arts and expression to them..About young entrants, yes for me, they(Malathi,Kutti Revathi,Suganthi Subramanaim) were there with the lanterns. Now I am here , as an electrode. There will be someone who will be a cyborg down the lane.

Times of India
How have you approached the subject of women's bodies in your work? Can you give us a few details about such projects?

Leena Manimekalai
For me, poetry is translating desire. I kind of try and challenge the existing design. I drink my menstrual blood when someone says, it is impure. I would recommend a piercing in clitoris when someone comes with a knife to do genital mutilation.  I am attracted to both women and men and am pro choice with regards to sexuality. I write this, I practice the same and try to live free. I can only talk about change, when I live free. As an artiste, Its impossible for me to be faithful to power structures including ideologies. And I detest censorship.
If all this is comprehended as living dangerous, I am happy, I have chosen it. Because safety is slavery.

Times of India
Could you tell us in detail what 'Ulakin Azhakiya Muthal Penn' is about? What stirred the controversy with Hindu Makkal Katchi? Why was the content referred to as 'obscene'?

Leena Manimekalai
 There is an asymmetrical relations between woman and language whose norms and usage are controlled by dominant patriarchy. The problem lies with the linguistic codes that are embedded in a culture - gender specific socialization that prohibits women from speaking or writing about issues that are potentially considered socially disruptive. Desire can be a dirty word to some religious and ideological fanatics but not to a poet.Maybe, for them true indian respect to women is  equivalent to treating them asexual. Religious definitions of "obscenity" "indecency", slip to dangerous propositions like moral policing and result in a threat to freedom of expression. This puritanical notion neither liberate or empower women or men not nurture art.

Times of India
Your blog mentions you took up a visual arts fellowship with PSBT on Tamil women, poetry and desire through the ages of Sangam, Medieval and Modern Periods. Could you tell us about that? Did you come across any interesting findings?

Leena Manimekalai
A man forges his early creative work from the expanse of his imagination and from the world of abstractions traversed by his mind. In contrast, a woman, I believe, mines the boarded-up space that is her body for words and offers them to the world. As a means of protesting the silence into which it has been coerced, the female body keeps imprinting on itself all the seasonal changes being wrought continuously by Nature.The film will explore the passionate language of women writers in Tamil literature from Sangam to Contemporary times who know where to situate their bodies, themselves and their poetry. It would like to explore how the body emerges in their poems as something they own but as something that is constantly put in a space that falls within both the private and public spheres. The film will be interested to interpret how these poems see the body both as a site of struggle and celebration. Birth, death and love get written on the body and also violence, violation and power.. The film will try and imprint the enigmatic envision of sensuality in Sangam to present Tamil women poetry.

Times of India
Finally, could you talk to us about your future projects?

Leena Manimekalai
My current project is Sengadal(, which is my debu fiction feature film, and scheduled to be completed by September end. My PSBT fellowship film should be finished by this December and am also at the moment compiling my third collection of poetry "Parathaiyargalin Raani"i.e "Queen of Sluts" in English. 

Karthika Gopalakrishnan for Times of India  

Published Version

Friday, September 3, 2010


(விகடனின் கேள்விகளுக்குத் தொகுப்பாக  எழுதி தந்தது)

செங்கடல், சாட்சியாகவும், கதைசொல்லியாகவும் நான் நிற்கும் இடம். தனுஷ்கோடி என்பது ஒரு அசுரத்தனமான மணல் காடு. அங்கு ஓயாமல் சுழன்றடிக்கும் காற்றில் தங்கிவிட்ட ஓலமும் , முகத்திலப்பும் மணல் துகள்களின் கதைகளும் தான் என்னை செங்கடலுக்கு இழுத்து சென்றது.

செங்கடலின் கதைநாயகன் பட்டாளம் என்ற முனுசாமியுடன்

மார்ச் 2009 லிருந்து தனுஷ்கோடி நோக்கிய என் பயணமும் தேடலும் இன்றும், என்றும் முடியுமா தெரியவில்லை. புயல் அழித்த நகரத்தின் சிதிலங்களை வீடாக கொண்ட தனுஷ்கோடி கம்பிப் பாடு கிராம மீனவர்களின் குசினிகளில்  உண்ட மீனும் நண்டும் இன்னும் என் கைகளில் வாசனையாய் மணக்கிறது. சராசரி ஒவ்வொரு மூன்று மீனவக் குடும்பங்களிலும் ஒரு விதவையையாவது, அல்லது மகனை இழந்த தாயையாவது பார்க்க நேர்ந்தது தான் செங்கடலை எழுத தூண்டியது.  த்மிழ் என்ற மொழியை பேசுவதாலும், கறுப்பாய் இருப்பதாலும் மட்டுமே அடித்து நொறுக்கப்பட்ட , கொல்லப்பட்ட, கொள்ளையடிக்கப்பட்ட, துன்புறுத்தப்பட்ட, சிறையிலடைக்கப்பட்ட இந்திய  மீனவர்களின் கதைகளை நான் கேட்டு வெறும் மௌன சாட்சியாகி போகாமல், பல ஆயிரம் செவிகளுக்கும், கண்களுக்கும், மனசாட்சிகளுக்கும் கொண்டு சேர்க்க வேண்டும் என்ற வேட்கையே செங்கடலை திரைப்படமாக்க தூண்டியது.

'இந்தத் திரைப்படத்தில் வரும் எந்தக்  காட்சியும் கற்பனையல்ல, அனைத்தும் உண்மைச் சம்பவங்களே. இதில் குறிப்பிடப்படும் மனிதர்களும் உண்மையானவர்களே. இந்தத் திரைப்படத்தில் நடித்திருப்பவர்கள்  எல்லோரும் ஈழத்து அகதிகளும் தனுஸ்கோடி மீனவர்களும் இராமேஸ்வரப் பொது  மக்களும, சில நாடக நடிகர்களுமே!' என்ற அறிவிப்போடு தான் திரைப்படம் தொடங்குகிறது.

பல பயிற்சிப் பட்டறைகள் நடத்தி, ஒத்திகை பார்த்து, ஸ்டில் கேமிரா கூட தங்கள் வாழ்க்கையில் பார்த்தறியாத மீனவர்களுக்கு கேமிரா தொழிநுட்பக் கருவிகளைக் குறித்த பயம் நீக்கி, திரைப்படத்தில் மக்களைப் பங்கெடுக்க வைத்தேன். படப்பிடிப்பின் இறுதி கட்டத்தில், கம்பி பாடு கிராமக் குழந்தைகள் 'ஆக்சன், கட். ஸ்டார்ட் காமிரா' சொல்லி, காட்சியில் நடிப்பவர்களுக்கு நடிப்பு டிப்ஸ் கொடுத்து, கூடும் கும்பலை படப்பிடிப்பிற்கு தொந்தரவு இல்லாமல் பார்த்துக் கொள்ளுமளவுக்கு சூழல் மாறியது மறக்க முடியாத அனுபவம். 

சினிமாவில் பல வகை உண்டு, பார்வையாளர்களை ஒருவித அதீத்திற்குள் , மாயத்திற்குள் தள்ளி மந்தையாக்குவது ஒரு வகை தப்பித்தல் சினிமா. அதில்  எனக்கு ஆர்வம் இல்லை. பார்வையாளர்களையும் கதாபாத்திரங்களாக்கி பங்கேற்க வைக்கும் முப்பரிமான சினிமா தான் எனக்கான களம். அதை எந்த விட்டுகொடுத்தலும் இல்லாமல் நேர்மையாக செய்திருக்கிறேன். செங்கடல் '24 பிரேம்ஸ் / நொடி' உண்மை. அது கண்டிப்பாக உலுக்கும் என்ற நம்பிக்கை எனக்கிருக்கிறது.

நேரடி அரசியல் சினிமாவாக இருக்கிறதே, தணிக்கையை எப்படி சமாளிப்பீர்கள் என்ற கேள்வி எழுப்புகிறார்கள். ஒரு படைப்பாளி தன் படைப்புக்கு மட்டும் தான் விசுவாசமாக இருக்க முடியும். எந்த வித அதிகாரத்திற்கோ, நிறுவனங்களுக்கோ, சந்தைக்கோ, விசுவாசமாக இருக்க முடியாது. உண்மைக்கு எப்போதும் சோதனைகள் அதிகம். எதிர்ப்போம். வெறும் அவநம்பிக்கைகள் சூழ்ந்திருக்கும் இந்த காலகட்டத்தில் எதிர்ப்பு மட்டுமே சாத்தியம் என்று நினைக்கிறேன். முத்துக்குமாரளவிற்கு உயிரைத் தர முடியவில்லைஎன்றாலும், என் எதிர்ப்பையாவது செங்கடலாக பதிவு செய்ய விரும்புகிறேன்.என்ன செய்வது? வரலாறு நம்மை வேடிக்கை பார்க்கிறது. பாசிசத்தின் கண்களை நாமும் உற்றுப் பார்க்க முயற்சிப்போம்.


ஷோபா சக்தியுடன்

கரையில் உயிரைக் காவலுக்கு வைத்துவிட்டு கடலுக்கும் செல்லும் மீனவர்களில் ஒருவராக பட்டாளம், தன் கணவரையும், தன் மூன்று சகோதரிகளின் கணவர்களையும் கடலில் இலங்கை ராணுவத் துப்பாக்கி சூட்டிற்கு பலி கொடுத்துவிட்டு கத்தோலிக்க அகதிப்பணி செய்யும் ரோஸ் மேரி, போரால் மனச்சிதைவிற்குள்ளான , மயங்கும் உண்மைகளை முன்னறிவிக்கும் தீர்க்கதரிசியான ஈழத்து அகதி சூரி, ஆவணப்பட இயக்குனர் மணிமேகலை என்று இவர்களைச் சுற்றிப் பின்னப்பட்டதே செங்கடலின் கதை. திரைக்கதை, வசனம் என்று பங்கு கொண்ட ஜெரால்டும், ஷோபா சக்தியும் இல்லையென்றால், செங்கடல் சாத்தியப்பட்டிருக்காது. அவர்களின் பங்கு அதனினும் மேலானது. ஷோபாசக்தி எந்தப் பிரதிபலனும் பாராது இன்று வரை செங்கடலின் ஒவ்வொரு நகர்தலையும் செம்மையாக்கி வருகிறார். அவரின் அசாத்தியமான ஈடுபாடு என்னை சில சமயம் திணறடிக்கும். இன்னும் செங்கடலின் தொழில்நுட்பக் கலைஞர்களின் பட்டியல் இந்தியாவின் ஆகச் சிறந்த பெயர்கள். கேரளாவிலிருந்து 'தேசாடனம்', 'மரண சிம்மாசனம்', போன்ற ஒப்பற்ற கலைப்படைப்புகளின் ஒளிப்பதிவாளர் எம்.ஜே.இராதாக் கிருஷ்ணன்,ஒலி வடிவமைப்புக்காக  பெங்காலிலிருந்து சுபதிப் சென்குப்தா, படத் தொகுப்புக்காக ஏழு முறை தேசிய விருது பெற்ற ஸ்ரீகர் பிரசாத், இசைக்காக எல்.வைத்தியநாதனின் மகன் எல்.வி.கணேசன் என்று எல்லோரும் தங்கள் உழைப்பைத் தந்திருக்கிறார்கள். பல பிரச்சனைகளிடையே, தாங்க முடியாத வலியும அவமானமுமாய் நின்ற போது, கை கொடுத்து,  தயாரிப்பு பொறுப்புகளை ஏற்றுக் கொண்டார் தோழி ஜானகி சிவக்குமார் (தோல்பாவை திடேட்டர்ஸ்) இப்படி பல நல்ல ஆன்மாக்களின் கூடு பிரார்த்தனை தான் செங்கடல். 

எல்லை, பாஸ்போர்ட், தேசங்கள், அகதி, காவல்துறை, ராணுவம், குடியுரிமை இவற்றுக் கெல்லாம் ஆயுள் ஒரு ஐம்பது அறுபது ஆண்டுகள் தான். ஆனால் கடலும், மீன்களும், மீனவர்களும், மொழியும், என்று மானுடத்தின் ஆயுள் பல்லாயிரம் ஆண்டுகள்.யுத்தத்தால் சிதறடிக்கப்படும் எளிய மக்களைப் பற்றிய, அவர்களின் வாழ்வு குறித்த அக்கறை தான் செங்கடல். வேறொன்றுமில்லை என்னிடம் தருவதற்கு...

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