New Delhi: In countries that are increasingly losing the ability to speak their mind or speak the truth, someone needs to speak up, Nadav Lapid, the Israeli filmmaker who called Kashmir Files a “vulgar” propaganda film, told the Israel news outlet Ynetnews over the telephone, just after making the comments on the film at the Indian International Film Festival in Goa.
Lapid was chairing the jury at the government produced film festival. His comments on the Vivek Agnihotri film were severely critical and he expressed surprise that the film had been screened for competition at all.
The film attempts to essay the conditions that led to the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and has been heavily endorsed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its government. Critics have commented on its unabashed anti-Muslim stance, its use of the beleaguered Pandit community for propaganda and its “relentless communalism.”
Lapid made the comments in Hebrew to Ynetnews. Several news outlets have since quoted English translations of the interview. When Lapid’s interview was published, most of the backlash to his comments was yet to arrive. Rightwing Twitter commentators alleged parallels with the Holocaust and Israel’s envoys to India panned Lapid, with the ambassador Naur Gilon noting that he should be “ashamed.”
Lapid said to Ynetnews that he was more than aware of the government’s stance on Kashmir Files when he made the comments.
“It was broadcast live on television. It’s a government festival and it’s the biggest in India. It’s a film that the Indian government, if it didn’t actually initiate, at least pushed it in an unusual way, because it basically justifies the Indian policy in Kashmir, and it has fascist features…It is that the dimensions of the event were hidden by the intellectuals and the media. And it is always the same method – that there is the foreign enemy, and there are the traitors from within. Our colleagues in the emerging government can tell about these methods,” he said.
Lapid, a feted film director who has been outspoken in his criticism of aspects of the Israeli government, also stressed on Israel’s propensity of designating an outside enemy and vilifying foreign traitors.
According to Ynetnews, Lapid also said that the Union Information and Broadcasting minister, Anurag Thakur, and the Israeli ambassador, Naur Gilon, discussed the similarity between the two countries and that both were “fighting a similar enemy and are in a bad neighbourhood”.
To this particular comment, Gilon responded by tweeting that he did not understand why Lapid brought this up and appeared to deny that he exchanged such words with Thakur.
We did speak about the similarities and closeness between our countries. The minister spoke about his visits to Israel, it being a Hi-Tech nation and the potential of combining this with the film industry. I spoke about the fact that we grew up watching Indian films.
— Naor Gilon (@NaorGilon) November 29, 2022
Lapid also said that it was easy to imagine an Israeli film like Kashmir Files soon.
“When I saw this film, beyond the fact that it shocked me with the transparent combination that exists in it between propaganda and fascism and vulgarity, I couldn’t help but imagine an Israeli film like this in another year and a half or two,” Lapid said.
Lapid said that he knew that IFFI was an event where “everyone praises the government” and thus the risks associated with such a calling out.
“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,” he said, adding that he was happy to be on his way to the airport eventually.
He also said that people came up to him to thank him for his comments and that he was guided by the thought that his own country could soon encounter a situation like India’s.
“And I said to myself that it would have happened, or when something similar happened here, then I would be happy for the chairman of a foreign jury to stand up and speak, even if it is not a pleasant feeling. It was a hall with thousands of people, and everyone was ecstatic to see the local stars and cheer for the government,” he said.
Lapid then appeared to indicate that his decision to speak up was prompted by the lack of environment in India to speak one’s mind or shed light on the truth.
“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 this place,” he said.
Relatedly, among the tweets that Ambassador Gilon addressed to Lapid was one that essayed his fears of a backlash. “You will go back to Israel thinking that you are bold and “made a statement”. We, the representatives of Israel, would stay here. You should see our DM boxes following your “bravery” and what implications it may have on the team under my responsibility,” he wrote.