During his concluding remarks at the recently-held International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in Goa, Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid sparked a controversy after he called Hindi film The Kashmir Files directed by Vivek Agnihotri "vulgar" and "propaganda". He further said the film was "inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival".
The Kashmir Files, which was released in theatres on March 11, was part of the Indian Panorama Section at IFFI and was screened on November 22.
The 53rd IFFI, a nine-day-long film gala, began on November 20. The film, which stars Anupam Kher, Darshan Kumar, Mithun Chakraborty and Pallavi Joshi among others, depicts the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir following the killings of people from the community by Pakistan-backed terrorists.
The 47-year-old Lapid, a recipient of the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, is a writer and filmmaker born in Israel. He is the son of writer Haim Lapid and film editor Era Lapid. He moved from his home country to Paris to study literature after receiving a degree in philosophy at Tel Aviv University and mandatory military service. He later studied cinema at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem.
His films - four features and several shorts - are all in Hebrew, and all deeply political.
He is known for his films Synonyms (2019), about a former Israel Defense Forces soldier who flees to Paris and tries to escape his past, The Kindergarten Teacher (2014), the story of a teacher and her obsession with her little student, and Policeman (2011), which is about the head of a counter-terrorist organisation.
In a 2014 interview with US-based website Film Comment, Lapid described Policeman thus: "I identified a huge elephant in the Israeli living room: social injustice and inequality. Unlike historians or sociologists, a filmmaker has the privilege of imagination. I wrote a story about an imagined group shortly before similar groups came to life."
When the feature was released in Israel in August the same year, the government film rating authority, equivalent to India's CBFC, declared it suitable for 18-year-olds and above.
Lapid called the decision an attempt to censor the film's troubling depiction of economic inequity leading to civic uprising. Following the outrage, the age limit was revised from 18 to 14.
Lapid has also been a member of the Golden Leopard jury at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival, a member of the International Critics’ Week jury at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and a member of the ‘Official Competition’ jury at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival in 2021.
The filmmaker is known for his love-hate relationship with his homeland, which came out in his competition entry, Ahed’s Knee, at the Cannes Film Festival last year. He was identified as a Palestine sympathizer for speaking against his own homeland Israel. He was among a group of 250 Israeli filmmakers that signed an open letter to protest against the launch of the Shomron Film Fund. The group felt the fund held only one goal, which was to invite Israeli filmmakers to "actively participate in whitewashing the Occupation in exchange for financial support and prizes".
In an interview for his film Synonyms with NOW magazine, he called the collective soul of Israel "sick".
"The film talks about the collective Israeli soul, and the Israeli collective soul is a sick soul. Something in the deepest essence of Israeli existence is false – it is rotten. It's not just Benjamin Netanyahu – it's not special to Israel. But, at the same time, I think this Israeli sickness or nature is characterised by young Israeli men who are muscular, smiling, who don’t raise any questions and don’t have any doubts. They are extremely proud of being Israeli. They have a total dichotomist vision of existence: Us versus all the others," he said.
He had also a few days ago aired his views on the Indian national anthem being played at the opening ceremony of the festival.
"I completely admire the fierce patriotism, but that was an underwhelming experience for an artist at an international event," he told The Peacock, the flagship publication of the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), one of the organisers of the event along with Information and Broadcasting ministry and National Film Development Corporation.
In the interview, published during the November 20-28 festival, he said he is not participating as an ambassador of Israel but as an artiste willing to experience different cultures. "If I wanted to represent Israel, I would have gotten into diplomacy," he said.
Lapid's views on The Kashmir Files has received mixed responses from the rest of the jury.
Lapid's co-jury members at IFFI Goa this year were Spanish documentary filmmaker Javier Angulo Barturen, French film editor Pascale Chavance, American film producer Jinko Gotoh and Indian film director Sudipto Sen.
Sen said the views were completely his personal opinion. None of the others made any mention of their likes and dislikes at a public platform, he said.
Lapid could not be contacted for further comments.
"Interviews can be very difficult, mostly because I'm afraid to try to speak about a film's political context, to place it in whatever other context (it may have)," he had said in an interview earlier this year.
(With PTI inputs)