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Salma: A poet and a politician

The 2013 documentary film ‘Salma’ chronicles the story of trailblazing Tamil feminist poet Rajathi Salma  

Rajathi Salma in a shot from the film 
Rajathi Salma in a shot from the film 

Rajathi Salma is one of Tamil Nadu’s most important contemporary poets, as well as a trailblazing gender activist and a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Overcoming orthodoxy, marital violence and imprisonment in her own home, Salma became a literary sensation not just in Tamil Nadu but globally, and in translation. 

The 2013 documentary film Salma chronicles her story, and was the subject of a recent chat between the subject and the filmmaker, hosted by Bangalore International Centre (BIC). “Born into an orthodox family in Thuvarankurichi village in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli district, Salma was pulled out of school when she attained puberty, as is the local practice, and kept indoors till she agreed to marry a man chosen by her family. Despite vocal and sometimes physical protests from her husband, Salma began recording her thoughts in notebooks hidden among her clothes. Her husband even threatened to throw acid on her face, she tells Longinotto with a smile. She saved herself by making one of her sons sleep next to her and nestling her face close to his,” wrote film critic Nandini Ramnath about the film for Mint in 2013. 

There is an ongoing online screening of the film till 22 August, organised by Vikalp Bengaluru, a cinema collective based in the city that supports non-mainstream, independent cinema, with a special focus on documentary films.  

Directed by British documentary film-maker Kim Longinotto, Salma is a story of female creativity and resilience. Salma’s work articulates the nuances of repressed desire and sexuality, bringing life to the often invisible domestic spaces inhabited by many Indian women. Her 2009 anthology of short stories, Saabam, was translated from Tamil to English by N. Kalyan Raman as The Curse: Stories, and her second novel, Manaamiyangal, published in 2016, was translated to English by Meena Kandasamy as Women, Dreaming

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