Israeli filmmaker and International Film Festival of India (IFFI) jury chief Nadav Lapid’s comments on the film The Kashmir Files, with its contested portrayal of the 1990 Kashmiri Pandit exodus from the Valley, have sparked a political controversy. While members of the Congress said “hate was eventually called out”, members of the BJP asserted that the “truth” about Kashmiri Pandits “will triumph”.
Sharing the jury report during the closing ceremony of the 53rd edition of IFFI in Goa Monday, Lapid said: “Usually, I don’t read from paper. This time, I want to be precise. I want to thank the director and head of the programming of the festival for its cinematic richness, the diversity and complexity… 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.”
Among others, Israeli Ambassador Noar Gilon criticised Lapid’s remarks.
From the Congress side, Srinivas B V, the president of the Indian Youth Congress, shared Lapid’s clip while Supriya Shrinate, the chairperson of the party’s social media and digital platforms, tweeted: “PM Modi, his govt, BJP, the RW ecosystem feverishly promoted ‘The Kashmir Files’… a movie rejected by International Film Festival Of India… Hate gets called out, eventually”.
Amit Malviya, in charge of the BJP’s National Information and Technology Department, said: “For the longest time, people even denied the Holocaust and called Schindler’s List a propaganda, just like some are doing to Kashmir Files. Truth eventually triumphs, no matter what.”
ANI quoted former Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta of the BJP as saying that “agencies are trying to defame India through Islamic movement, CAA movement”. “Much more has happened to #Kashmiri Pandits than what was shown in the movie ‘Kashmir Files‘,” he said.
Y Sathish Reddy, the social media convenor of the TRS, said the “BJP is successfully damaging the brand of ‘India’ globally”.
While Vivek Agnihotri, the filmmaker of The Kashmir Files, did not directly respond to the film, he tweeted: “Truth is the most dangerous thing. It can make people lie.”
News agency ANI quoted Actor Anupam Kher as calling the statements “shameful”. “We’ll give proper reply. If holocaust is right, exodus of Kashmiri Pandits is right too. Seems pre-planned as immediately after that toolkit gang became active,” he said.
At the time of its release in March, the film had got fulsome support from the BJP. Six BJP-ruled states — Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh – had made the film tax free.
Announcing the tax exemption on March 13, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the film had to “be watched by the maximum people”. He added: “Movie #The Kashmir Files is heart-wrenching narration of the pain, suffering, struggle, and trauma faced by Kashmiri Hindus in the 90s.”
The Madhya Pradesh government declared leave for policemen to watch the film. It also announced a genocide museum for Kashmiri Pandits, at a March 25 event, also attended by Vivek Agnihotri.
Then BJP national spokesperson R P Singh announced free tickets for The Kashmir Files to college students at Rajinder Nagar, the constituency in Delhi he contested from in 2020. “Let the new generation visit the history which scarred the soul of the nation,” he tweeted.
In Assam, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced on March 16 that government employees would be given half-day special leave to watch the film.
In Karnataka, BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal announced that he will fund one show of the film per day for an entire week “so that people can watch it free of cost” in his constituency in Vijayapura.
The film also became a flashpoint between the BJP and AAP.
Speaking in the Assembly, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal countered the BJP’s demand to make the film tax-free by saying that the movie be uploaded on YouTube so that “the entire country can understand the plight of Kashmiri Pandits”.
The Congress has maintained that the film “incites hate”. The party’s general secretary communications in-charge Jairam Ramesh tweeted after the film’s release: “Some films inspire change. Kashmir Files incites hate. Truth can lead to justice, rehabilitation, reconciliation & peace. Propaganda twists facts, distorts history to whip up anger & promote violence. Statesmen heal wounds. Pracharaks exploit fear and prejudice to divide & rule.”