Nadav Lapid, the Israeli head of the jury at the International Film Festival of India, described Kashmir Files—the official Indian entry for the competitive section of the festival—as “vulgar propaganda”. He said he and his fellow jurors were “disturbed and shocked” on viewing the film. “We all jury members shared exactly the same impression of the movie” as “very crude, manipulated and violent”.
In subsequent comments to the Indian and Israeli media, he has further described the Vivek Agnihotri film as “ridiculous” and compared it with a “cartoon for kids” in the manner in which the “bad guys” are portrayed.
It is, Lapid said, “A flat product… totally in service of an agenda”, which has left him “with a very bad taste”. He has confirmed that he is questioning the “aesthetic and artistic quality of the film” and not “questioning the veracity of the facts”. Indeed, he believes, “Tragic events like this deserve a serious movie… a piece of art that truly represents what happened with realistic values.” Instead, Kashmir Files has served up a movie with “fascist features” as shown by the manner the film was “pushed into the official competition due to political pressure by the Indian government”. He said, “Even if it did not actually make” the film, the Indian government “pushed” it “in an unusual way”. The movie, he elaborated, “is not equal to the tragedy… such serious topics deserve a serious film.” This, Kashmir Files is manifestly not because it is “a propagandist movie inappropriate for an artistic, competitive section of such a prestigious film festival”. It is only “manipulation, vulgar, violence…that can cause hostility, violence and hate between communities”. He has further dubbed the movie as “Islamophobic”.
Before we go on, let us see who this Israeli is. He was invited because he is an eminent cineaste and film critic who has served as president of the jury in dozens of film festivals, including “the biggest ones like Cannes, Berlin and others”. As a filmmaker, he first came to international notice when he was awarded the special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival in 2011 for his debut film, Policeman, and went on to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his Synonyms. You cannot go much higher than that.
In answer to the Israeli ambassador’s charge that he should be “ashamed” of himself, Lapid has tartly responded that he has not come to India “in order to serve the interests of the state”. That, he adds, is “a totally fascistic idea”.
In what is arguably his most compelling comment, he stresses that, “We must have the capacity to deal with things in a complex way.” By simplifying complex issues into bad guys vs. good guys, Agnihotri has not served the cause of truth even if, as he claims, all the ‘facts’ he has cherrypicked are accurate.
I offer two telling facts to close this column. In his reminiscences of the exodus that occurred under his watch when he was governor, Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan says 138 persons were killed till March 10, 1990, of whom 75 were “Hindus”. He does not do the simple maths required to see that this also means 63 Kashmiri Muslims were killed over the same period! And to go by the RTI response of the deputy superintendent of police, Srinagar number HQR’s/RTI/S-91/2021/108-09, dated November 27, 2021, of all those killed since “the inception of militancy 1990”, 89 are Kashmiri Pandits and 1,635 belong to “other faiths”—they are almost all Muslims. It is by including that side of the story that Kashmir Files would have proved worthy of inclusion in the IFFI.
Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.