Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid has justified his controversial statement on The Kashmir Files, saying “someone has to speak up.” Talking to Israeli news website Ynet over the phone, Lapid said he was “happy to be on (his) way to the airport” because what was going on in India regarding his comments was “crazy.”
At Monday’s closing ceremony of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, Lapid, who was the jury head, called director Vivek Agnihotri’s film “propaganda” and “vulgar.” “It seemed to us (the jury members) like a propagandist movie inappropriate for an artistic, competitive section of such a prestigious film festival,” he added.
Lapid admitted that he was quite “apprehensive” before making his statement, which he did before a crowd filled with dignitaries and eminent film industry personalities.
“I knew that this was an event that is terribly connected to the country, and everyone stands there and praises the government. It is not an easy position, because you are a guest — I am the president of the jury here — you are treated very nicely. And then you come and attack the festival. There was apprehension, and there was discomfort…. Yes, I spent the day apprehensive. Let’s put it this way: I’m happy to be on my way to the airport now,” he told Ynet.
“Can imagine an Israeli film like this”
In the interview, Lapid said while watching the film, he was shocked by the “transparent combination between propaganda and fascism and vulgarity.” He added that he could “imagine an Israeli film like this in another year and a half or two.”
“It was a hall with thousands of people, and everyone was ecstatic to see the local stars and cheer for the government. In countries that are increasingly losing the ability to speak your mind or speak the truth, someone needs to speak up. When I saw this movie, I couldn’t help but imagine its Israeli equivalent, which doesn’t exist but could definitely exist. So, I felt I had to, because I come from a place that is itself not reformed, and is itself on the way to these places.”
Lapid maintained that the film has “fascist features.” He told Ynet, “It’s a film that the Indian government, even if it didn’t actually make it, at least pushed it in an unusual way. It basically justifies the Indian policy in Kashmir, and it has fascist features.”
“It is always the same method — that there is the foreign enemy, and there are traitors from within,” he added.
Backlash after remarks
Lapid’s remarks have triggered massive backlash in India, prompting Israel’s ambassador Naor Gilon to tweet that the filmmaker “should be ashamed” and that he wanted “to apologize to our hosts.”
Many, including actor Anupam Kher, accused the award-winning filmmaker of being insensitive towards the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to flee the Valley at the height of militancy in the 1990s. Kher wondered how someone from a community (Jews) that faced the horrors of the Holocaust could make such remarks.
Though Lapid, in his speech, spoke for the entire jury, fellow jury member Sudipto Sen was quick to distance himself from Lapid’s remarks, tweeting that they were his “personal opinion.”
Released in March, The Kashmir Files was promoted enthusiastically by leaders of the ruling BJP and became one of the biggest commercial successes of 2022. It is based on the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s, and director Agnihotri has claimed that the entire film is based on true incidents.
(With agency inputs)