NEW DELHI — Israel’s ambassador to India on Tuesday denounced a filmmaker from his country after describing a controversial Kashmir-related blockbuster Bollywood film as “propaganda” and a “vulgar film” at a film festival, fueling the recent debate that has fueled the ongoing conflict.
Naor Gilon, Israel’s Ambassador to India, said he was “extremely hurt” by filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s comments that he said the film “The Kashmir Files” was not worthy of being screened at the critically acclaimed India International Film Festival. Organized by the government of India in the western state of Goa, the event concluded on Monday.
“The Kashmir Files” was released in March with great success and takes place largely in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when attacks and threats by militants led to the exodus of most Kashmiri Hindus from the disputed Muslim-majority region. While many film critics and Kashmiri Muslims describe the film as hateful propaganda, fans and advocates of the film, including many of India’s federal government ministers, see the film as a fundamental examination of the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus, locally referred to as the Pandits.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both claiming the entire region. In 1989, tens of thousands of Muslims, mostly Kashmiri, revolted against Indian rule, sparking a protracted armed conflict in the region.
On Tuesday, Gilon tweeted on Lapid, “You SHOULD BE SHAME.”
“I’m not a film expert, but I know it’s callous and arrogant to talk about historical events that are an open wound in India without delving into historical events, because most of those involved are still around and still paying a price,” said Gilon. . He also accused Lapid of damaging the growing relationship between India and Israel.
The festival jury moved away from Lapid’s words, calling them his “personal opinion”. An internationally renowned director, Lapid’s films “Synonyms” and “Ahad’s Knee” won awards at major festivals.
At the time of publication, “The Kashmir Files” was endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and supported by offering tax breaks in some states led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
However, the movie sparked heated debate. While supporters praised the film for telling the truth about Kashmiri Hindus, critics said the film aims to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments at a time when calls for violence against minority Muslims in India are increasing.
However, the movie was a blockbuster hit. Made on a $2 million budget, it has grossed more than $43 million so far, making it one of India’s top-grossing films this year.
The producers of “The Kashmir Files” have repeatedly said that they exposed the “genocide” of the region’s Hindus and likened it to Hollywood’s “Schindler’s List” that tells the story of the Holocaust. However, many critics, including some of Bollywood’s best directors, described the film as divisive, full of factual inaccuracies and provocative.
Hindus have lived peacefully with mostly Muslims for centuries in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. In the late 1980s, when Kashmir became a battlefield, militant attacks and threats led to the departure of many Kashmiri Hindus who identified with the Indian government. Many believed that the rebellion also aimed to destroy them. It reduced Hindus from an estimated 200,000 to a small minority of about 5,000 in the Kashmir Valley.
Many of the region’s Muslims, long angered by Indian rule, deny the systematic targeting of Hindus and say India helped them leave to portray Kashmir’s freedom struggle as Islamic extremism.
More than 200 Kashmiri Hindus have been killed in the last three decades of conflict in the region, according to official data. Some Hindu groups put this number much higher.
Tensions in Kashmir returned in 2019 when India’s Hindu nationalist government abolished the region’s semi-autonomy, split the region into two federal districts administered by New Delhi, and put pressure on freedom of expression with widespread arrests. Kashmir has since witnessed a number of targeted killings, including by Hindus. Police blame anti-India rebels for the killings.
On Tuesday, “The Kashmir Files” actor Anupam Kher, who plays a protagonist, called the film review “premeditated”.
“If the genocide is true, so is the immigration of Kashmiri Pandits,” Kher said in a video posted on Twitter.
“The Kashmir Files” is directed by Vivek Agnihotri, who claims that his previous film, “The Tashkent Files”, was a conspiracy in the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The movie was heavily criticized for presenting unproven conspiracy theories as facts.