Award-winning Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid gets flak for remarks on The Kashmir Files

Award-winning Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid gets flak for remarks on The Kashmir Files

"The Kashmir Files felt to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival," he said.
30 Nov, 2022

Is The Kashmir Files, a controversial film on the plight of Hindus in Kashmir in the 1990s a vulgar and propaganda film? Award-winning Israeli moviemaker Nadav Lapid told audiences at an international film festival in Goa on Tuesday he thought so. So did other members of the jury, according to him.

Lapid was invited to chair the jury at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa where The Kashmir Files was screened. At the concluding ceremony the jury chief lashed out at the film and said, “There were 15 films in the international competition — the front window of the festival. Fourteen out of them had cinematic qualities… and evoked vivid discussions. We were, all of us, disturbed and shocked by the 15th film, The Kashmir Files. That felt to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival.”

The comments set off howls of protest from supporters of the Hindu right, mostly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had celebrated the movie, and praised its director Vivek Agnihotri publicly as a “revealer of truth”. “Those who always carry the flag of freedom of expression, this entire group has been rattled these past 5-6 days (with the film’s success),” he told a meeting of his MPs.

For a host of familiar reasons the Israeli ambassador in India too found himself rejecting Lapid’s views on The Kashmir Files, and he tendered an apology too on behalf of his country.

In an “open letter” to Lapid, Ambassador Naor Gilon slammed what he said was abuse of Indian hospitality by his compatriot. Mr Gilon equated the controversial film — seen by many cinema watchers as bordering on Islamophobic — with Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust classic Schindler’s List. He urged Lapid to “justify” his criticism.

The controversial film purports to portray the exile of the Pandit community from the Kashmir Valley with empathy, but was seen by many viewers as needlessly accusatory against Muslims.

A group of Kashmiri Pandits, whose parents were killed in the Valley, demanded that Mr Lapid be immediately deported from the country.

The Kashmir Files unmasked the 30-year-old propaganda designed to hide the truth on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits,” Vikas Raina, son of principal Ashok Kumar Raina, who was killed allegedly by Hizbul Mujahideen, said.

Sandeep Kaul, whose grandfather Radha Krishen and father Shiban were killed brutally in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district, demanded an apology from Mr Lapid for “mocking the tragedy” depicted in The Kashmir Files.

“His remarks have reopened my old wounds. It has brought pain to me and my mother,” Mr. Kaul said.

Sudipto Sen, a jury member, reportedly distanced himself from the Israeli’s comments, terming them “personal”.

Mr Gilon raised his protest to a strategic level. “The friendship between the people and the states of India and Israel is very strong and will survive the damage you’ve inflicted. As a human being I feel ashamed and want to apologise to our hosts for the bad manner in which we repaid them for their generosity and friendship.”

“You will go back to Israel thinking that you are bold and ‘made a statement’. We, the representatives of Israel, would stay here. You should see our DM boxes following your ‘bravery’ and what implications it may have on the team under my responsibility,” Mr Gilon said.

Lapid’s speech has drawn polarising responses, with some praising his courage to say what he did in front of Indian dignitaries including Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, while others have accused him of whitewashing the plight of Hindus in Kashmir.

It was, however, a struggle to find anything deprecating of the Kashmiri Pandits’ plight in Lapid’s comments. For many, the comments came from a cinema critic and did not seek to undermine the human tragedies in violence-wracked Kashmir. Lapid is a highly regarded filmmaker with strong views on issues of human rights.

Earlier this year, he joined a group of 250 Israeli filmmakers who signed an open letter to protest against the launch of the Shomron (Samaria/West Bank) Film Fund. The filmmakers felt the only goal of the Fund was to use filmmakers to “actively participate in whitewashing the Occupation”. He consequently drew flak from people within the Israeli state, The Indian Express said.

In an interview about ‘Synonyms’, he said, “When the film was released in Israel, Miri Regev, the Culture Minister, sent someone very close to her to the premiere. He came to me and said, in a very frontal way that Israelis can do things, ‘Hi, I came to examine if your film is pro- or anti-.’ So I said, sincerely, ‘as soon as you find out, call and tell me’.”

Originally published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022