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Who is Nadav Lapid, at the centre of The Kashmir Files controversy?

Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, a jury head at the International Film Festival of India, is at the centre of controversy after describing The Kashmir Files as "vulgar" and "propaganda". Who is he, and what did he say in his speech that has drawn strong reactions?

Israeli filmmaker and IFFI jury head Nadav Lapid speaks during the closing of the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI), in Goa, Nov. 28, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid made headlines in India on Monday (November 28) for criticising Vivek Agnhotri’s film The Kashmir Files, calling it “vulgar” and “propaganda”. Lapid, a jury chief at the 53rd edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), made the comments while addressing the closing ceremony of the festival in Goa.

“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,” he said. Lapid was the jury chairman of the International Competition section of IFFI.

Lapid’s speech has drawn polarising responses, with some praising his courage to say what he did in front of Indian dignitaries including Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, while others have accused him of whitewashing Islamist violence and disregarding the plight of Hindus in Kashmir.

One of the strongest responses to Lapid’s comments came from Israeli Ambassador to India Naor Gilon. In a scathing Twitter thread, Gilon said, “You have abused in the worst way the Indian invitation to chair the panel of judges at IFFI, as well as the trust, respect and warm hospitality they have bestowed on you… As a son of a Holocaust survivor, I was extremely hurt to see reactions in India to you that are doubting Schindler’s List, the Holocaust and worse.”

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Accusing Lapid of causing real hurt to India-Israel ties, the Ambassador said Lapid was free to say what he wanted inside Israel but “should not air his frustrations outside”.

Nadav Lapid: A ‘philosophical’ filmmaker

Nadav Lapid was born in 1975 to Jewish parents who worked in the film industry in Israel. He studied Philosophy at the Tel Aviv University, completed his mandatory service with the Israeli Defence Forces, and moved to Paris. He later returned to his homeland to pursue a degree at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem.

Lapid’s background in Philosophy is reflected in the films he makes. He handles weighty themes in his own way: sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with jarring bluntness. With the rare ability to philosophise while entertaining at the same time, Lapid’s films have picked up some serious issues but always managed to weave in dark humour and absurdist situational comedy.

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A recipient of the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (one of France’s highest civilian awards recognising contribution in the field of arts), Lapid is a part of various film juries across the world.

Highly acclaimed work

In his career spanning nearly two decades, Lapid has directed 13 films in total, including both full-length features and short films. He has received high praise for his work. His debut feature film ‘Policeman’ (2011) won the Locarno Festival Special Jury Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2011 as well as multiple awards in the Jerusalem film festival. This film explores various themes through its main character, the head of Israel’s counter terrorism forces. Showing Lapid’s deep empathy and ability to portray complex, multi-dimensional characters on screen, this film announced the 36-year-old filmmaker on the world stage.

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In the ‘Kindergarten Teacher’ (2014), Lapid beautifully portrays the relationship between a kindergarten teacher and a young child who has a gift for poetry. Filled with stunning visuals and profound dialogue, Lapid deals with some serious themes through the poetry of the child. This film was featured in the International Critics Week at Cannes.

‘Synonyms’ (2019) won the top prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It is an exaggerated autobiographical story about a young Israeli who, upon finishing his military service, flees to Paris in an effort to shed his identity. There, he refuses to speak Hebrew while clutching his French thesaurus for dear life as he tries to reinvent himself. Rife with details that resonate with Israelis and diaspora Jews, Lapid’s work sheds light on the complicated relationship he himself shares with his homeland.

A dissident or a patriot?

A frequent theme of Lapid’s work is his dichotomous relationship with Israel and his Jewish identity. On one hand, he embraces his heritage and identity, laments global antisemitism and portrays the daily lives of Jews within and without Israel. On the other, his films are critical of Israel’s militarism and curtailment of freedoms. His latest film ‘Ahed’s Knee’ (2021) dealt with some of his inner conflicts.

Earlier this year, Lapid joined a group of 250 Israeli filmmakers who signed an open letter to protest against the launch of the Shomron (Samaria/West Bank) Film Fund. The filmmakers felt the only goal of the Fund was to use filmmakers to “actively participate in whitewashing the Occupation.” He has consequently drawn flak from people within the Israeli state

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In an interview about ‘Synonyms’, he said, “When the film was released in Israel, Miri Regev, the Culture Minister, sent someone very close to her to the premiere. He came to me and said, in a very frontal way that Israelis can do things, ‘Hi, I came to examine if your film is pro- or anti-.’ So I said, sincerely, ‘as soon as you find out, call and tell me’.”

First published on: 29-11-2022 at 10:47 IST
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