The Kashmir Files: Israeli director sparks outrage in India over ‘vulgar movie’ remarks

Nadav Lapid, chair of the International film festival India, spoke out against work that critics say is anti-Muslim propaganda

A row has erupted in India after an Israeli director described a controversial film about Kashmir as propaganda and a “vulgar movie”, prompting the Israeli ambassador to issue an apology.

Nadav Lapid, who was chair of this year’s panel of the international film festival of India (IFFI), spoke out against the inclusion of The Kashmir Files at the event.

The film, released in March to popular box office success, is largely set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when attacks and threats by militants led to most Kashmiri Hindus fleeing from the region, where the majority of the population are Muslim.

Many film critics, Kashmiri Muslims and others, have described it as propaganda that inflames hatred against Muslims and distorts events to suit an anti-Muslim agenda.

However, the film has received a ringing endorsement from the highest levels of the Indian government, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), who have also been accused of pursuing an anti-Muslim agenda. The prime minister, Narendra Modi, has praised the film, congratulating its makers for having “the guts to portray the truth” and it was the second highest-grossing film in India this year.

Nadav Lapid pictured at last year’s Cannes film festival, receiving the jury prize for his film Ahed’s Knee.
Nadav Lapid pictured at last year’s Cannes film festival, receiving the jury prize for his film Ahed’s Knee. Photograph: Catarina+Perusseau/REX/Shutterstock

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the film festival, Lapid said he and other jury members had been “shocked and disturbed” that the film had been given a platform. The Kashmir Files, said Lapid, was “a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival”.

Lapid said his comments were made in the spirit of “critical discussion, which is essential for art and life”, adding he was sure they could be accepted graciously by the festival and audience as such. But his critique caused outrage.

Amit Malviya, a senior BJP leader, compared his remarks to denial of the Holocaust. “For the longest time, people even denied the Holocaust and called Schindler’s List propaganda, just like some are doing to Kashmir Files,” he said.

In Goa, where the festival took place, a complaint was filed to police against Lapid, accusing him of “instigating enmity between groups”.

Fellow jurors at the film festival, which is sponsored by the Indian government, quickly distanced themselves from his comments, stating that they reflected his opinion and not that of the panel. Film-maker Sudipto Sen, who was on the panel, said: “We don’t indulge in any kind of political comments on any film.”

Some of the harshest criticism came from Israel’s ambassador to India, Naor Gilon, who told Lapid he should be “ashamed” of his comments and that it was “insensitive and presumptuous” to speak on a subject that has political and religious ramifications in India. Gilon said he “unequivocally condemned” the statements.

Lapid, who has taken an anti-establishment stance against rightwing elements in his home of Israel, is not alone in expressing concern over The Kashmir Files. Cinemagoers have started anti-Muslim chants at screenings and it has been accused of stirring up communal violence. In May, Singapore banned the film over its “potential to cause enmity between different communities”.

Vivek Agnihotri, the film’s director, said on Monday that “terror supporters and genocide deniers can never silence me”.

He added: “I challenge all the intellectuals in this world and this great film-maker from Israel to find one frame, one dialogue or an event in The Kashmir Files that is not true.”


Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi

The GuardianTramp

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