Vivek Agnihotri’s film, The Kashmir Files, released in theatres in March but even after eight months, the controversy around it doesn’t seem to stop. The latest episode of bipartisan debate (or rather mud-slinging) was triggered by the Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s comments strongly disapproving of the film at the International Film Festival of India in Goa, where he was serving as the head jury.
“There were 15 films in the international competition — the front window of the festival. Fourteen out of them had the cinematic qualities…and evoked vivid discussions. We were, all of us, disturbed and shocked by the 15th film, ‘The Kashmir Files.’ That felt to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival.”– Nadav Lapid at IFFI, Goa
These words rattled the right wing so much, many of them tweeted demanding resignation of Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, who was present at the IFFI event and who was also held responsible for the selection of Lapid as the jury chief.
“So Anurag Thakur was given an easier portfolio & he still messed up?” one Twitter user wrote.
Israeli Ambassador Goes Into Damage-Control Mode
Lapid’s comments seem to have embarrassed the Israeli ambassador to India, Naor Gilon, who wrote an open letter to the filmmaker in the form of tweets. Lapid, who himself is a Jew, is critical of the Israeli State in its handling of the Palestine issue and his movies too are political in nature. The ambassador alluded to this fact saying,
“My suggestion. As you vocally did in the past, feel free to use the liberty to sound your criticism of what you dislike in Israel but no need to reflect your frustration on other countries. I’m not sure that you have enough factual basis to make such comparisons. I know I don’t.”
Gilon also expressed fear regarding the repercussions he and his staff in India may face in light of the controversy as his Twitter inbox was already flooded with messages.
“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.”
Gilon’s fearful tweet suggests that the jabs and barbs on the two opposing sides are not just a battle of ideas but they have ugly undertones.
Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted,
“This is unfortunate if the Israeli Ambassador and his team are being flooded with DMs against the remarks made by the IFFI jury President. It is obvious for anyone to understand that Nadav Lapid at no point denied the Kashmiri Pandit exodus or dismissed it. The comments he made were about the way one movie that was nominated, namely, the Kashmir Files has treated the subject of the unfortunate events and made it a propaganda film; he spoke of the discomfort of the other jury members too.”
Anupam Kher Indirectly Refers to Lapid as a Traitor
One of the lead actors in The Kashmir Files, Anupam Kher, didn’t stop at responding to Lapid’s statement but went on to use words like "traitor" and "toolkit gang."
“If you can’t handle the naked truth, the harsh truth, then you should poke out your eyes, you should sew your mouth shut. Stop making fun of it. Because we are here to honour this truth; our wives and daughters have experienced it. We are all still reeling from it. This truth is a part of our lives. I urge you to go and ask the Pandits what they feel. India and Israel are friends. Both countries have survived terror. An ordinary Israeli can understand the plight of a Kashmiri Hindu. On the other hand, every country has traitors of its own; that is also a truth.”– Anupam Kher
The veteran actor also spoke of the film and the killings of Kashmir Pandits as one and the same thing, when that needn't have to be the case. The criticism of the film doesn’t have to mean one denies that Kashmiri Pandits were killed and that their sufferings deserve to be discussed.
This rhetorical manoeuvre was employed by movie’s director Vivek Agnihotri too. His video statement on Twitter was a litany of loaded terms like "terrorist organisations", "urban naxals", people wanting to break up ("tukde tukde") India and so on.
“What is surprising for me is that at an event organised by the Indian government, at Indian government’s stage, a narrative of terrorists wanting to separate Kashmir from India was supported. And latching onto that, many Indians staying in India itself used it against India.”
Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT department head Amit Malviya’s tweet was on similar lines as Agnihotri. “For the longest time, people even denied the Holocaust and called Schindler’s List a propaganda, just like some are doing to Kashmir Files. Truth eventually triumphs, no matter what,” he wrote.
But many Twitter users pointed out that Agnihotri is no Steven Spielberg and The Kashmir Files is no Schindler’s List.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut reminded people of the active government support for the film and compared it to the security situation in Kashmir. He told news agency ANI,
“It’s true about Kashmir Files. There was propaganda by one party against another. A party & Govt was busy with publicity. But maximum number of killings in Kashmir occurred after this film. Kashmir Pandits, security personnel were killed”.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)