Paris-based writer-director Nadav Lapid, by his own admission, has “the habit of watching movies in a proper and un-influenced way”. Lapid, who was the head of International Competition of the recently-concluded International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa, told The Indian Express: “When I am on the jury (of a film festival), I try not to read the catalogue beforehand. When I watched The Kashmir Files (2022), I knew it was an Indian entry. That’s more or less the only thing I knew about it. However, while watching it, I found the movie to be a cheap, vulgar, and propaganda movie. I am not against controversial movies. I like the idea when movies go to the extreme. I am not against the level of violence in The Kashmir Files. However, it annoyed me that the movie doesn’t have any inner contradictions, complexities. It is totally flat.”
Prior to his Goa visit, Lapid, an internationally acclaimed Israeli writer and director, had as much idea about the protracted Kashmir conflict as “people who are curious and have a certain knowledge about what’s happening all around would usually have”. Though before coming to Goa as the IFFI jury head he has “read a little bit about India” and its political situations, he is quick to clarify that he “not an expert or even half an expert” of India. After watching The Kashmir Files, he believed that he must voice his opinion even though he was aware “the movie has many supporters”.
“By nature I am not an impulsive person. I had a feeling that something should be said about it (The Kashmir Files). Other jury members too shared the same feeling.” During the IFFI closing ceremony on Monday evening, however, Lapid spoke alone as he presented the jury report. He said: “We (members of the jury) were, all of us, disturbed and shocked by ‘The Kashmir Files’. That felt to us like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival.”
When asked about the statement made by fellow jury member Sudipto Sen, a Mumbai-based filmmaker, that what Lapid said during the closing ceremony was “his personal view”, the Israeli filmmaker said: “Other jury members too felt it was a propaganda film. All the jury members were going to talk about it on stage and we discussed that.” He made it clear that he does not hold it against any jury member for the stand they have taken. “In these kinds of situations, people behave in different ways. I don’t want to judge them. I am not in that place,” he said.
Ending speculation regarding the opinion of other members of the competition jury, Lapid’s fellow juror and BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) winner Jinko Gotoh, tweeted in his support on Saturday. The statement issued by her and two jurors, film critic and journalist from France Javier Angulo Barturen and French film editor Pascale Chavance, said that they stand by the statement made by Lapid about the ‘The Kashmir Files’. “We stand by his statement. And to clarify we were not taking a political stance on the film’s content. We were making an artistic statement, and it saddens us greatly to see the festival platform being used for politics and subsequent personal attacks on Nadav. That was never the intention of the jury,” they said.
Usually, the jury does not talk about a film that’s not selected for an award and Lapid doesn’t dispute that. He says: “Basically, the jury does not do that. They are supposed to watch movies, savour them, talk about their merits and select winners. But then basically movies like The Kashmir Files shouldn’t be part of the competition section at film festivals. I have been part of the jury in dozens of festivals, including the international ones held in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice . Never ever have I watched a movie like The Kashmir Files at these festivals.” He strongly believes that a movie like this should not have been selected for the International Competition section — which he described as “the front window” of a film festival. “When you show a movie like this to the jury, you force them to behave differently (than usual),” he said.
When asked if Lapid is surprised by the kind of reaction his statement has triggered, he said that being a “foreigner” he doesn’t have much clue about such things. He, however, added that he likes discussions. “I like their emotional discussions. People get emotional while talking about movies.” After leaving India, he initially didn’t want to interact with the media and discuss the matter. He didn’t respond to messages. He changed his mind after he realised that his statement was being “manipulated” and it was projected that he “ignored the tragedy” of Kashmiri Pandits. Released on March 11 this year, “The Kashmir Files”, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, ran to packed halls across the country but was panned by critics. The film, which was declared tax-free, is based on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley in the 1990s.
Lapid’s IFFI statement might have sparked a major debate but he is no stranger to controversy. In his films, he has never shied from pointing out the fault lines in Israeli society and questioning the government. His feature Synonyms (2019), based on his own experiences, is about a young Israeli moving to Paris to start a new life and trying to escape his identity. Synonyms was the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019 and the FIPRESCI Award (Competition). Ahed’s Knee (2021), which received jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, critiques the Israeli government’s culture policy and censorship. “My films are polemic and controversial. The reactions are polarised, harsh. It ranges from fascination and enthusiasm to fury and hate,” he says.
The Tel Aviv-born filmmaker does agree that the artistic community in many parts of the world is facing restrictions. This, he believes, makes them face a tough choice — whether “they should keep on expressing inner truth” or be “spokesperson of those in power”.