Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid has now doubled down on his criticism of an Indian film that he had publicly condemned earlier this week.
Speaking at the closing event of the International Film Festival of India in Goa on Monday about "The Kashmir Files," which was shown at the festival, he said it "felt to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival.” Lapid headed the jury at the festival.
"Making bad films is not a crime, but this is a very crude and very manipulative and very violent propaganda film,” Lapid told Haaretz following the flap over his comments on the film, a wildly popular movie touted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It depicts the 1990 flight of Hindus from the Muslim-majority Kashmir region – an Indian-administered territory that critics of India's control have described as brutal occupation.
Kashmir has been the scene of conflict since British-ruled India's partition in 1947 into an independent Indian state and an independent Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir. During the period that was the subject of the film, there was a growing Muslim armed insurgency in Kashmir.
The film, which centers around a university student who discovers that his Kashmiri parents had been killed by armed Muslims, has sparked anti-Muslim sentiment. Since the film debuted in India this year, there have been calls in the country to boycott Muslim businesses and even to attack Indian Muslims.
Lapid's comments in Goa were met by widespread condemnation in India, with many invoking the Holocaust in their criticism. “Nadav Lapid is a Hindu-hating bigot who whitewashes ethnic cleansing. Not less than a Nazi enabler,” tweeted Abhinav Prakash, the national vice president of a youth movement affiliated with President Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Aditya Raj Kaul, the executive editor of India’s TV9 network, asked if Lapid would “call [the] Holocaust a propaganda” or categorize Holocaust-era films such as “Schindler’s List" and "The Pianist" as propaganda films.
For his part, Gilon, the Israeli ambassador in New Delhi, said, “I’m 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 those involved are still around and still paying a price.”
But Lapid told Haaretz that he stands behind his remarks and "definitely knows how to recognize a piece of propaganda masquerading as a film.”
"We learned that the film was pushed into the official competition of the festival, which is the largest in India, due to political pressure," the Israeli film director said. "So I feel that precisely as a foreigner who goes there, you have an obligation to say the things that the people who live there may have a harder time saying."
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"In such contexts, I don't believe in secrets and whispers. If you stand on stage and are asked to speak, what will you talk about? Only about the beaches you saw and the food you ate?
“The truth is that I also couldn't help but imagine a similar situation that might happen one day soon in Israel, and I would be happy that in such a situation, the head of a foreign jury would be willing to say things as he sees them. In a way, I felt it was almost my duty to the place that invited me,” Lapid added. “I think I was invited there to tell the truth as I see it, and I saw a work that is in competition with other films but is actually propaganda in support of a certain policy.”
Asked how he could judge the film to be propaganda without knowing the historical context, he replied, “I certainly don't know enough about the conflict in Kashmir, ... but you can also watch films by [Nazi propagandist] Leni Riefenstahl and know what you're seeing without being a great expert on that period.” And he added, "I promise you that if you had watched three random minutes of the film, the question would have been unnecessary."
In an op-ed on the Haaretz website on Wednesday, Indian journalist Swati Chaturvedi alleged that “huge diplomatic pressure was applied by India to Israel,” and "it was conveyed to Israel that India considered the criticism of the film an ‘unfriendly act.’”
Gilon, the Israeli ambassador, noted on social media that he was being swamped by angry messages and said Lapid’s comments may have “implications” for Israel’s representatives in India. For her part, in her op-ed, Chaturvedi suggested that the Israeli ambassador and his embassy staff may have been the victim of a coordinated official Indian trolling campaign. “Clearly the volume of threats and fears for their security made Gilon go public,” she wrote.
Asked if it was worth damaging Indian-Israeli relations to criticize the film, Lapid responded that he was “not an official representative of the State of Israel” and had received “hundreds of messages and emails from film people and others in India who are happy about it, and for them, finally things were said that they believed in.”
“They invited me there as a film director, and I was speaking about a cinematic [script]. I didn't come to express one position or another on the conflict in Kashmir, and I hope that was understood,” he remarked.