Jury chairperson Nadav Lapid describes "The Kashmir Files" as "vulgar" and "propaganda" at an international film festival in India, drawing ire from far-right Indians and Israelis, including Israeli envoy to New Delhi.

Israel filmmaker Nadav Lapid, third left, being honoured by Indian ministers at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival of India in Goa.
Israel filmmaker Nadav Lapid, third left, being honoured by Indian ministers at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival of India in Goa. (Press Information Bureau via AP)

Israel's envoy to India has denounced a filmmaker from his country after he called a controversial Bollywood film on India-administered Kashmir a "propaganda" and "vulgar movie" at a film festival, stoking a debate about recent history that fuels the ongoing conflict in the Himalayan region.

Naor Gilon, Israel's ambassador to India, said on Tuesday he was "extremely hurt" by comments made by filmmaker Nadav Lapid in which he said the movie "The Kashmir Files" was unworthy of being screened at the highly acclaimed International Film Festival of India. 

"All of us were disturbed and shocked by the 15th film, The Kashmir Files. That felt like a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival," Lapid said at the event, organised by the Indian government in western Goa state, that ended on Monday.

"I feel totally comfortable to openly share these feelings here with you on this stage. In the spirit of this festival, can surely also accept a critical discussion, which is essential for art and life." 

On Tuesday, Gilon tweeted at Lapid, saying: "YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED." Gilon accused Lapid of "damaging the growing relationship between India and Israel."

"The Kashmir Files" was released in March to a roaring success and is largely set in the late 1980s and the early 1990s when attacks and threats blamed on rebels led to the migration of most Kashmiri Hindus from the Muslim-majority disputed region.

Many film critics and Kashmiri Muslims have called the film hateful propaganda, while its fans and proponents, including India's many federal government ministers, see it as essential viewing of the plight of Kashmiri Hindus, locally called Pandits.

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'Divisive and inaccurate'

An internationally acclaimed director, Lapid's movies "Synonyms" and "Ahad's Knee" have won awards at major festivals.

At the time of its release, "The Kashmir Files" was endorsed by Indian right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and promoted by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party by offering it tax breaks in some states governed by it.

The film, however, set off heated debates.

Its supporters praised it for speaking the truth about Kashmiri Hindus, while critics said the film was aimed to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments at a time when calls for violence against India's minority Muslims have increased.

Many critics, including some of Bollywood's top directors, have called it divisive, full of factual inaccuracies and provocative.

The film is directed by Vivek Agnihotri, whose previous film "The Tashkent Files" alleged a conspiracy in the death of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

The film was heavily criticised for presenting unproven conspiracy theories as facts.

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Most militarised region

Hindus lived mostly peacefully alongside Muslims for centuries across the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In the late 1980s, when Kashmir turned into a battleground, attacks and threats led to the departure of most Kashmiri Hindus, who identified with India's rule. 

It reduced the Hindus from an estimated 200,000 to a tiny minority of about 5,000 in the Kashmir Valley.

Most of the region's Muslims, long resentful of Indian rule, deny that Hindus were systematically targeted and say India helped them to move out in state-sponsored transport to malign Kashmir's legitimate freedom struggle.

According to official data, over 200 Kashmiri Hindus were killed in the last three decades of the region's conflict. Some Hindu groups put the number much higher. 

Tensions in Kashmir returned in 2019 when India's Hindu nationalist government stripped the region's semi-autonomy, annexed it, split it into two federal territories administered by New Delhi and imposed a clampdown on free speech accompanied by widespread arrests.

Kashmir has since witnessed a spate of targeted killings, including that of Hindus. 

Kashmir, split between Pakistan and India, has been claimed by both sides in entirety since British rule of the subcontinent ended 75 years ago and Pakistan and India were born.

Rebels in the India-administered portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi's rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebels' goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Muslim-majority India-administered Kashmir remains one of the world's most militarised regions, where India has deployed more than 500,000 troops.

Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have lost their lives in decades of conflict.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies