Israeli filmmaker causes row after calling Kashmir film 'vulgar'

Nadav Lapid dismisses The Kashmir Files as propaganda at the closing ceremony of Indian film festival

Jury chairman Nadav Lapid, third left, at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival of India in Goa on November 28. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

An Israeli filmmaker has sparked controversy after calling a Bollywood film on Kashmir “vulgar propaganda”, forcing Tel Aviv’s representative in New Delhi to issue an apology.

Nadav Lapid, who was the head of the jury at the 53rd edition of the International Film Festival of India, criticised The Kashmir Files — a film about the migration of Kashmiri Hindus in the 1990s — after it was screened at the festival along with 14 other movies.

“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,” Mr Lapid said. He was speaking at the closing ceremony of the festival.

“I feel totally comfortable to share openly these feelings here with you on stage. Since the spirit of having a festival is to accept also a critical discussion, which is essential for art and for life,” he added.

The movie became one of India's highest-grossing films of the year but triggered a storm after it was released in March, creating an ideological battlefield for critics and supporters.

It claims to depict the sufferings of Kashmir’s Hindu minority community who fled the valley after an armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began in the early 1990s.

It was hailed as a “true account of the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus” by the community and large sections of the population, including the right-wing Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party made the movie tax free in several states.

But it faced criticism for exaggerating and fabricating events, drawing parallels between the migration and the holocaust and for denigrating Kashmir’s Muslim majority population.

The festival is one of the most prestigious events in the country, attended by top ministers and organised by the government-run National Film Development Corporation of India and Goan state authorities.

A banner for Bollywood movie 'The Kashmir Files' outside a cinema in the old quarters of Delhi. AFP

The comments by Mr Lapid ― who has been on the jury of several prestigious film festivals including Locarno, Cannes and Berlin ― triggered a storm on social media, drawing public condemnation from Israel’s ambassador to India Naor Gilon.

“You should be ashamed … I’m no film expert but I do know that it’s insensitive and presumptuous to speak about historic events before deeply studying them,” Mr Gilon said on Twitter. The events in the film were “an open wound in India because many of the involved are still around and still paying a price,” he added.

“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,” he said.

A lawyer at India’s Supreme Court also filed a plea for a criminal case to be brought against Mr Lapid, demanding his arrest.

But many on social media came out in support of the Israeli filmmaker.

“Hate gets called out, eventually,” Supriya Shrinate, a spokeswoman for the opposition Congress party, said on Twitter. The ruling BJP had “feverishly promoted” the movie, she added.

The film was directed by controversial director Vivek Agnihotri, who won a national film award this year.

It was a huge commercial hit with an opening at 600 cinemas across the country, as Mr Modi hosted the director and cast at his residence.

More than 150,000 Kashmiris fled the valley, a majority of them Hindus, at the beginning of the rebellion against New Delhi.

The government estimates 219 Kashmiri Hindus were killed by Muslim militants during the instability in the 1990s, for either being associated with the Indian state or for their religious identity.

Critics say the film portrays all Kashmiri Muslims as being responsible for the migration and torture of the minority Hindu community. Its release was followed by a wave of hate crimes against Muslims.

There were several attacks and provocative speeches by Hindus at cinemas, urging revenge against Muslims.

Anupam Kher, the star of the film who is also a Kashmiri Hindu and a supporter of Mr Modi and his party, reacted to Mr Lapid’s comments.

“May God give him wisdom so that he doesn't use the tragedy of thousands and lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of people from the stage to fulfil his agenda,” Mr Kher said on social media.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 7:14 AM