Leena Manimekalai

Leena Manimekalai is a published poet and award-winning filmmaker from the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu whose works promote human rights, particularly those of marginalized people, such as the Dalit, Refugee, LGBTI+ community. Her fifteen plus films across genres and lengths have covered subjects such as caste, gender, globalization, art therapy, student politics, Tamil’s right to self-determination, eco feminism, Indigenous and LGBTI+ rights. Her films have been internationally acclaimed and have also generated reprisal, censorship attempts and death threats. She is one of the BAFTA India Breakthrough Talent, 2022 and has recently completed MFA (Film) at York University and holds a fellowship at the Centre for Free Expression, Toronto Metropolitan University.

Fellowship Research ProjectIs Art non Labour?

Artists work but never become workers. They are blood banks for vampiric institutions and an insatiable public expecting them to create magically without food, safety, home, help, time or money. My meditation will be on how artists are forced to survive in the liminal space between precarity and resistance.


Why shouldn’t the Goddesses tell their own stories?
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
7:00 pm –  9:00 pm
Innis Town Hall
2 Sussex Ave, Toronto, ON M5S 1J5

Join us for an evening of film and Q&A with JHI Artist in Residence Leena Manimekalai.

This event is free and open to all; there is no registration required.

Maadathy: An Unfairy Tale (90 minutes; 2019) is a Tamil language folk drama written, directed and produced by Leena Manimekalai.  Starring Ajmina Kassim, Patrick Raj, Semmalar Annam, and Arul Kumar, the film is set in a river. For the lead character, Yosana, the river provides liberation from the blind realities of caste. Puthirai vannaar is an unseeable Dalit caste group in southern India whose forced labour is to wash the clothes of other Dalits, the dead, and menstruating women. Yosana grows up in the Puthirai vannaar caste, and this is the story of how she comes to be immortalized as their local deity, Maadathy.

“It’s rare to see a film where the male body is subjected to the female gaze”

Kaali (15 minutes; 2022) is a short documentary film in which film maker Leena Manimekalai walks the streets of Toronto at night donning the image of Kali from Tamil and Telegu village folklore. The performance depicts Kali’s rebellious spirit as she  possesses people, eats meat, smokes marijuana, drinks liquor, urinates publicly, and dances in a disruptive show. Manimekali places Kali in the “land of immigrants to understand settler colonialism.”

This residency is in partnership with Jackman Humanities Institute and Centre for South Asian Critical Humanities at University of Toronto (CSACH) .

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