An Israeli filmmaker has triggered controversy in India after he denounced a film on the Kashmir dispute as “propaganda” and a “vulgar movie” at a government-sponsored film festival in Goa.
Nadav Lapid, who headed the jury at the week-long International Film Festival of India (IFFI) that concluded on Monday, said he was “disturbed and shocked” by the inclusion of The Kashmir Files in the event.
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“That felt to us, seemed to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival,” he said in his concluding address at a ceremony also attended by India’s federal broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur and top filmmakers from different countries.
The Kashmir Files, a 170-minute Hindi-language movie written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri, was released in March this year. It tells the fictional story of a student who discovers that his Kashmiri Hindu parents – known as Kashmiri Pandits – were killed by armed rebels and not in an accident as his grandfather had made him believe.
The Kashmir Files created a storm as soon as it was released, with critics saying it distorted facts and fanned anti-Kashmir and anti-Muslim hatred across India. One of the most successful Bollywood releases this year with reported earnings of $43m so far, the movie ran to packed cinemas across India, with instances of viewers raising hate slogans and inciting violence during many screenings.
The film, “powered by a visceral demonisation of the Kashmiri Muslim, attempts to construct the truth about Kashmir out of the carcasses of facts,” wrote documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak in a column for Al Jazeera.
One of Agnihotri’s earlier films, The Tashkent Files, was also criticised for presenting conspiracy theories on the death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri as fact.
However, The Kashmir Files was hailed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. In at least eight BJP-ruled states, the film was granted tax-free status.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been divided between Hindu-majority India and mostly Muslim Pakistan since 1947, with both nuclear armed countries claiming the territory in full but ruling over parts of it. In 2019, Modi’s government scrapped the region’s partial autonomy and brought it under direct federal control.
An armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began in the Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s. The rebellion saw targeted attacks on the Kashmiri Pandits and resulted in an exodus of thousands of them into mainland India.
Many Hindus, however, stayed back in the disputed region, alluding to centuries-old bonds between the two communities.
To calm tempers in India over Lapid’s excoriation of the film, Israel’s ambassador to India, Naor Gilon, on Tuesday denounced the filmmaker from his country in a series of tweets. Gilon said India-Israel ties were very strong and would survive the “damages” inflicted by the remarks.
“I am no film expert but I do know that it’s insensitive and presumptuous to speak about historic events before deeply studying them and which are an open wound in India because many of the involved are still around and still paying a price,” Gilon posted.
“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.”
An open letter to #NadavLapid following his criticism of #KashmirFiles. It’s not in Hebrew because I wanted our Indian brothers and sisters to be able to understand. It is also relatively long so I’ll give you the bottom line first. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED. Here’s why: pic.twitter.com/8YpSQGMXIR
— Naor Gilon (@NaorGilon) November 29, 2022
Actor Anupam Kher, who features in the film, accused the IFFI jury, headed by Lapid, of being insensitive towards the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits. “The truth of Kashmir Files is stuck like a thorn in the throat of some people. They are neither able to swallow it nor spit it out,” Kher tweeted.
But Mohit Bhan, a Hindu politician based in Indian-administered Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that “nobody is talking about the justice” to Kashmiri Pandits whose plight, he said, remains the same as it was in the 1990s.
“The way the movie was hijacked by the right-wing in India and the hate speeches that were made against the entire Muslim community has put the pain of Kashmiri Pandits backstage and the hatemongering at the front. The narrative has become one of Hindus against Muslims,” Bhan said.