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Israeli ambassador slams Israeli filmmaker for comments at Indian film festival

Envoy Naor Gilon says Nadav Lapid should ‘be ashamed’ for ‘abusing Indian hospitality,’ being insensitive to Hindus after filmmaker calls ‘The Kashmir Files’ ‘vulgar propaganda’

Israeli filmmaker and jury chair Nadav Lapid, third left, being honored by Indian ministers at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival of India in Goa, India, Nov.28, 2022. (Press Information Bureau via AP)
Israeli filmmaker and jury chair Nadav Lapid, third left, being honored by Indian ministers at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival of India in Goa, India, Nov.28, 2022. (Press Information Bureau via AP)

Israeli Ambassador to India Naor Gilon on Tuesday lashed out at an Israeli filmmaker who stirred controversy the previous day when he criticized a popular Indian film about the 1990s exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the Indian-administered region as “vulgar propaganda.”

Concluding the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on Monday, director Nadav Lapid, who served as jury chairman at the event, said he was surprised to see the film “The Kashmir Files,” by Indian producer Vivek Agnihotri, presented in the competition.

The filmmakers have said it exposes what they call the “genocide” inflicted on the region’s Hindus and likened it to the Hollywood Holocaust film “Schindler’s List.” But many critics, including some of Bollywood’s top directors, have called it divisive, full of factual inaccuracies and provocative.

Speaking on behalf of the jury, Lapid said during the closing ceremony of the event that 14 of the 15 films presented in the festival “evoked vivid discussions” but added that “all of us were disturbed and shocked” to see “The Kashmir Files” included in the event.

“It felt to us like a propaganda and vulgar movie that was inappropriate for an artistic and competitive section of such a prestigious film festival,” he said.

Lapid said he felt “totally comfortable to share these feelings” onstage, “since the feeling we felt at this festival can truly accept a critical discussion, which is essential for art and for life.”

But not everyone was comfortable with Lapid’s critique.

On Tuesday, Gilon tweeted at Lapid, saying: “YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED.”

“In Indian culture they say that a guest is like God. You have abused in the worst way the Indian invitation to chair the panel of judges at @IFFIGoa as well as the trust, respect and warm hospitality they have bestowed on you,” the Israeli envoy wrote.

“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 the involved are still around and still paying a price,” Gilon added.

Largely set in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, when attacks and threats by militants led to the migration of most Kashmiri Hindus from the Muslim-majority disputed region, “The Kashmir Files” was released in March to roaring success. Many film critics and Kashmiri Muslims have called the film hateful propaganda, while its fans and proponents, including many of India’s federal government ministers, see it as essential viewing of the plight of Kashmiri Hindus, locally called Pandits.

Agnihotri, who wrote and directed “The Kashmir Files,” said in a tweet that “Truth is the most dangerous thing. It can make people lie,” in an apparent response to Lapid’s remarks.

In a later tweet, the Indian filmmaker wrote: “Terror supporters and Genocide deniers can never silence me.”

“The Kashmir Files” actor Anupam Kher called the criticism of the film “preplanned.”

“If the Holocaust is right, then the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits is also right,” Kher said in a video posted on Twitter.

The festival jury distanced itself from Lapid’s remarks and called them his “personal opinion.” An internationally acclaimed director, Lapid has seen his movies “Synonyms” and “Ahad’s Knee” win awards at major festivals.

The vast majority of inhabitants of the Kashmir region — an area divided between India, Pakistan and China — identify as Muslim. The Kashmir Valley, an area of Kashmir that has been controlled by India since 1947, has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan.

Muslim rebels have been fighting Indian control in the area since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

According to official data, over 200 Kashmiri Hindus were killed in the last three decades of the region’s conflict. Some Hindu groups put the number much higher. The region’s Muslims deny that Hindus were systematically targeted.

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