29 November 2022

Israeli film-maker sparks controversy with remarks on Kashmir movie

29 November 2022

Israel’s envoy to India has denounced a film-maker from his country after he called a Bollywood blockbuster about disputed Kashmir “propaganda” and a “vulgar movie”, stoking a debate about recent history that fuels the ongoing conflict.

Naor Gilon said he was “extremely hurt” by Nadav Lapid’s comments that The Kashmir Files was unworthy of being screened at the highly acclaimed International Film Festival of India.

The event, organised by the Indian government in western Goa state, ended on Monday.

The Kashmir Files, which was released in March, is 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.

Many film critics and Kashmiri Muslims have called the movie hateful propaganda, while its fans and proponents, including India’s many federal government ministers, see it as essential viewing on the plight of Kashmiri Hindus, locally called Pandits.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the territory in full. In 1989, tens of thousands of mostly Kashmiri Muslims rose up against Indian rule, leading to a protracted armed conflict in the region.

On Tuesday, Mr Gilon tweeted to Lapid: “You should be ashamed.”

“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,” he wrote.

He also accused Lapid of inflicting damage on the growing relationship between India and Israel.

The festival jury has distanced itself from Lapid’s remarks and called them his “personal opinion”.

An internationally acclaimed director, Lapid’s movies Synonyms and Ahad’s Knee have won awards at major festivals.

At the time of its release, The Kashmir Files was endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and promoted by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party by offering it tax breaks in some states governed by it.

The film, however, set off heated debates.

Its supporters praised it for speaking the truth about Kashmiri Hindus, while critics said the film was aimed at stoking anti-Muslim sentiments at a time when calls for violence against India’s minority Muslims have increased.

Neverthess, the film was a blockbuster. Made on a budget of 2 million US dollars (£1.7 million), it has earned more than 43 million dollars (£35.7 million) so far, making it one of India’s highest-grossing films this year.

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

Hindus lived mostly peacefully alongside Muslims for centuries across the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In the late 1980s, when Kashmir turned into a battleground, attacks and threats by militants led to the departure of most Kashmiri Hindus, who identified with India’s rule, Many believed that the rebellion was also aimed at wiping them out.

It reduced the Hindus from an estimated 200,000 to a tiny minority of about 5,000 in the Kashmir Valley.

Most of the region’s Muslims, long resentful of Indian rule, deny that Hindus were systematically targeted, and say India helped them to move out in order to cast Kashmir’s freedom struggle as Islamic extremism.

According to official data, more than 200 Kashmiri Hindus were killed in the last three decades of the region’s conflict. Some Hindu groups put the number much higher.

Tensions in Kashmir returned in 2019, when India’s Hindu nationalist government stripped the region’s semi-autonomy, split it into two federal territories administered by New Delhi and imposed a crackdown on free speech accompanied by widespread arrests.

Kashmir has since witnessed a spate of targeted killings, including that of Hindus. Police blame anti-India rebels for the killings.

On Tuesday, The Kashmir Files actor Anupam Kher, who plays a protagonist, called the criticism of the film “pre-planned”.

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

The Kashmir Files is directed by Vivek Agnihotri, whose previous film, The Tashkent Files, alleged a conspiracy over the death of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The film was heavily criticised for presenting unproven conspiracy theories as facts.

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