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EntertainmentNadav Lapid struggles to justify comment on The Kashmir Files

Nadav Lapid struggles to justify comment on The Kashmir Files

In an interview with a television channel, Nadav Lapid, the filmmaker of Israeli origin who embarrassed his country and his hosts at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (Iffi) by calling The Kashmir Files, based on the genocide and exodus of Hindus of the Muslim-dominated valley, a “vulgar” and “propaganda” film, has made a statement where he sounds sorry but not quite. He said had not meant to disrespect the Kashmir “tragedy” — a descriptor generally referring to accidents or natural calamities — but it was only his opinion about a movie and not the Kashmir affairs.

“Making bad films is not a crime, but this is a very crude and very manipulative and very violent propaganda film,” Nadav Lapid told Haaretz following the furore in India over his comments on the film and Israeli authorities’ desperate scrambling to distance their government from the remark and condemn the filmmaker.

Two days ago, Nadav Lapid said he stood by his remarks and “definitely” knew “how to recognize a piece of propaganda masquerading as a film”.

On 30 November, the Israeli filmmaker said, “In such contexts, I don’t believe in secrets and whispers. If you stand on stage and are asked to speak, what will you talk about? Only about the beaches you saw and the food you ate?

“The truth is that I also couldn’t help but imagine a similar situation that might happen one day soon in Israel, and I would be happy that in such a situation, the head of a foreign jury would be willing to say things as he sees them. In a way, I felt it was almost my duty to the place that invited me,” Nadav Lapid said.

“I think I was invited there to tell the truth as I see it, and I saw a work that is in competition with other films but is actually propaganda in support of a certain policy,” Nadav Lapid boasted.

But today, the film director said, “We learned that the film was pushed into the official competition of the festival, which is the largest in India, due to political pressure. So, I feel that precisely as a foreigner who goes there, you have an obligation to say the things that the people who live there may have a harder time saying.”

“I didn’t want to insult anyone. My aim was never to insult the people or their relatives, who have suffered. I totally apologize if that’s the way they interpreted it,” Nadav Lapid said, “But at the same time, whatever I said and I said clearly that for me and my fellow jury members, it was and it is a vulgar propaganda movie that didn’t have a place and was inappropriate for such a prestigious competitive section. I can repeat it again and again,”

Nadav Lapid went on to claim he respected and supported the victims of the Kashmir exodus but again used the word “tragedy”, diluting the targeted murders and rapes of Hindus by Muslim inhabitants as much as regular terrorists. “I have enormous respect for the tragedy, victims, survivors and for whoever suffers there. It (my remarks) was not at all about this. I’ll repeat these words 10,000 times if I have to say that I was not talking about the political issue, historical equation, or disrespecting the tragedy that happened in Kashmir. I was talking about the movie and that such serious topics deserve, in my opinion, a serious film.”

Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, The Kashmir Files released on 11 March. Overcoming initial reservations of the distributors towards the heart-rending, realistic portrayal of the plight of Kashmiri Hindus, the film garnered a massive response eventually by word of mouth at the box office. Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, commenting on the success of the film, said that he was surprised as Agnihotri had made the film in a way directors are advised against.

The Kashmir Files was the slowest film ever made. It goes against whatever we, as filmmakers, learnt what not to be made. There’s no screenplay, no first or second act, no interval and no climax. And people are going gaga over it!” Varma said on 3 September.

Background of Nadav Lapid

Nadav Lapid is Israeli alright, but soon after graduating with a degree in philosophy from Tel Aviv University, learning filmmaking from Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem and completing a year of mandatory military service, he for the global cultural-intellectual hub of Paris, France. It was in Paris that he studied literature.

His debut film Policeman won the Locarno Festival Special Jury Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2011.

His 2019 film Synonyms, about a young man who disowns his own country in disgust, won the Golden Bear award at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. His latest film, Ahed’s Knee shared the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize with Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and was selected to compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or.

Ahmed’s Knee focuses on Ahed Tamini, a Palestinian teenager who slapped an Israeli soldier and was sentenced to prison in 2017.

Lapid was among a group of 250 Israeli filmmakers that signed an open letter to protest against the launch of the Shomron (Samaria/West Bank) Film Fund. The filmmakers felt that the fund had just one goal: Inviting Israeli filmmakers to “actively participate in whitewashing the Occupation in exchange for financial support and prizes.” The Shomron Film Fund’s official mandate is to “distribute grants to Jewish settlers who reside in the West Bank (“Judea and Samaria”) and to productions by Israeli citizens filmed in the West Bank.”

Talking about his film Synonyms in one of his interviews, Lapid had said that “the Israeli collective soul is a sick soul”. “Something in the deepest essence of the Israeli existence is false, 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 muscular, smiling, who don’t raise any questions and don’t have any doubts. They are extremely proud of being Israeli. They have a totally dichotomist vision of existence: Us versus all the others,” he said in an interview published in Toronto-based NOW magazine.

His filmography as a director includes The Star (Short), From the Diary of a Wedding Photographer (Short), Why? (Short), Love Letter to Cinema, The Kindergarten Teacher, Footsteps in Jerusalem (Documentary), Gaza Sderot: in Spite of Everything (Documentary), Emile’s Girlfriend, Road (Short), Border Project (Documentary short) besides the film mentioned in paragraphs above.

Asked on 30 November how he could judge The Kashmir Files to be propaganda without knowing the historical context, an ignorant but arrogant Nadav Lapid replied, “I certainly don’t know enough about the conflict in Kashmir… but you can also watch films by [Nazi propagandist] Leni Riefenstahl and know what you’re seeing without being a great expert on that period.” And he added, “I promise you that if you had watched three random minutes of the film, the question would have been unnecessary.”

Who had invited Nadav Lapid?

According to a Press Information Bureau report dated 7 November, Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Dr L Murugan had reviewed preparations for the event that day. The minister visited venues for various events and urged that they be made functional as early as possible.

The recommendation to invite Nadav Lapid, a filmmaker who abuses his own country Israel and own people Jews at international forums, came from Monideepa Mukherjee, the managing director of National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), sources in the ministry said. They said she took advantage of the fact that “this edition of Iffi was celebrating the success of Israeli web series Fayda in India and so, when asked for her recommendation for an Israeli filmmaker who could grace the occasion, she sneaked in this controversial man’s name”.

“Mukherjee’s was the name we sought out because the event was about films and she heads the state-run film department,” an official at the ministry said.

Mukherjee has so far not issued any statement against this allegation.

Secretary Apurva Chandra in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, who is also director general (western zone) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, was among the leading bureaucrats responsible for the organisation of the event. Ravindra Bhakar, who is a joint secretary (films), Prithul Kumar at the said ministry, Subhash Chandra, who is the chief executive officer and secretary at the Information and Public Relations department of the Government of Goa, Swetika Sachan of the Entertainment Society of Goa and other officials were present at the meeting.

Goa Inspector General of Police Omvir Singh Bishnoi was responsible for the security arrangements at the event.

“Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Apurva Chandra stressed that special care be taken to ensure that both delegates and film personalities have a pleasant experience at Iffi 53. He directed that both the website and the mobile app be made ready soon so that delegates may plan how to best experience the festival,” the PIB report said

“Managing Director, NFDC, Ravindra Bhakar apprised those present about the various new features to be introduced this Iffi. This edition will feature a greater number of film personalities, both national and international than any other previous edition, informed the Managing Director. He informed that the scheduling and planning is well on track and that the detailed schedule would be made available to delegates very soon,” said the report.

Embarrassed bureaucrats

“It is unfortunate and sad that such a fiasco has happened. It only goes on to show that these people were just lazy. They did not do their homework. This is not rocket science. You could just Google the person and see… just as the whole of India is doing now,” said a senior officer in the ministry told Firstpost on the day of the PR disaster.

“This is embarrassing for India as a country as a State. We have been found lagging at a very basic level. There is a set standard procedure for selection or inviting people as jurists, just like any other film festival across the world: the person should be eminent, must have an acclaimed body of work under his belt. Question is, who thought that Nadav Lapid qualifies on these two counts?” another government official said.

“This edition of the film festival was nothing new; it was the 53rd edition. A template for everything is in place. They just needed to go through the basic rigour of implementing them. This is just lazy work,” yet another source at the ministry said.

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