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Giving voice to the voiceless

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A creative director, she showed how women could break the gender barrier.

Leena Manimekalai

A member of Vikalp, a national forum of film-makers for freedom, Ms. Manimekalai edits Thirai, an alternative Tamil film magazine. In conversation with Abdul Latheef Naha

Her films say it all. But Leena Manimekalai from Chennai does not prefer to confine herself to documentary film-making alone. In her business card, she introduces herself as a creative director. A brief chat with her will easily convince one of her varied interests and passions.

Ms. Manimekalai was in North Kerala last week showing her films and discussing them on some campuses. For many, watching her documentaries was a new experience. For others, she showed how women could break the gender barriers.

Most of her documentaries are an attempt to give voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. When she zooms in her camera to a people who refuse to come out of their superstitious cell, technical soundness hardly matters.

"Oh, is it still so?" Most people who watched her film `Altar' must have said to themselves. Her 50-minute `Altar' is an ethnographic intervention on the customs and traditions of a community called Kambalathu Naicker living in central parts of Tamil Nadu. `Altar' shows us the community's sanctions for child marriage and promiscuity.

But the film-maker does not think that a society can be reformed with one film. "It is over-expectation to think that everything will change with one film," she says. According to her, social change is not a joke.

Her other films too deal with the sufferings of the marginalized. `Parai' is a film on violence against Dalit women in Tamil Nadu. `Break the Shackles' deals with the challenges the new economic policies pose before Dalits in the country.

`Mathamma' is a film on the tradition of offering female children to the deity of the Arundhati community in Mangattucheri village near Chennai. `Waves After Waves' is a film on art therapy of tsunami-affected children in Tamil Nadu.

Her `Connecting Lines' is a cross-cultural film on student politics in India and Germany. She describes her `Love Lost' as a video poem on changing relationships in urban space.

Ms. Manimekalai has taken part in many film festivals and won awards for her documentaries. Her documentaries, `Mathamma' and `Parai', were screened at the Women in Director's Chair, and international film and video festival held in Chicago in 2004.

She runs a professional media house called Kanavuppattarai in Chennai. Her production house named Touring Talkies has units in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

An engineer-turned-film-maker, Ms. Manimekalai does not believe in stifling her theatrical passions. She has acted in several of her movies. She has published an anthology of poems ``Otraitilaiyena''.

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