After having her share of troubles with the intelligence agencies and the censor board, filmmaker Leena Manimemekalai discusses her film, Dead Sea and the uncomfortable truths surrounding the genocide in Sri Lanka
Movies about the horrors of genocide are quite common in Western films, and quite the rage among Indian viewers. However, few film-makers in our country have talked about genocide that India itself has engaged in. Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, however, is different from the pack. She has made her first feature-length documentary, Sengadal (The Dead Sea). The film deals with the plight of Tamil fishermen who flee a war-ravaged Sri Lanka and take refuge in India.
Talking about the film, Manimekalai says, "India is the one that nurtured Tamil weapon movements in Sri Lanka and is the cause of three gruesome decades of loss and suffering. As an Indian, I am ashamed because my government has supported the war. The misery has spilt over to Indian shores and the fishermen along the coast cannot fish without risking their lives. They speak the same language as ethnic minorities in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Navy kill them in the name of 'border crossing'."
Her film ran into trouble with the Censor Board earlier this year. "Dead Sea was banned by the Central Board of Film Certification for its political content, and the way it criticizes Indian and Sri Lankan governments." Eventually the film was cleared with an 'adult' certification. "No state has any business in dictating terms to art. The truth can be uncomfortable but it is our responsibility to deal with it," she says.
Making the film was no easy task either -- the production took place at Dhanushkodi, just 18 kilometres away from the Sri Lankan coast. "It's a very different life out there -- no bathrooms, no electricity, no mobile signal," recalls Manimekalai. "The area is constantly under surveillance by the Coast Guard, the Indian Navy, CB-CID, Q Branch and the Intelligence Bureau. Even the dogs there are different because they feed on corpses. To overcome these barriers, to see Dead Sea become a portrayal of an unrecognised and insecure community, was quite a task."
As a filmmaker, she was limited in many ways -- no money, professional production support, professional actors, and constant intimidation by vigilance forces, harsh weather conditions and a difficult location. "But there was something that was driving me -- the fisherfolk's ability to live amidst so much violence, I guess" she says.
Manimekalai says she is not trying to take a political stand through the movie; rather, she is presenting the truth as is. "I am not a messiah. I came across something that disturbed me and I felt my experience had to be shared with fellow human beings. We wage wars and spread misery. When we acknowledge it, it is art. When we don't, it is the untold history of ordinary lives."
Vikalp presents a screening of Sengadal at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu on August 29 at 7 pm