NEW DELHI — Israel’s envoy to India on Tuesday denounced a filmmaker from his country after calling a blockbuster Bollywood film about disputed Kashmir “propaganda” and a “vulgar film” at a film festival, sparking debate over recent history fueling the ongoing conflict.
Naor Gilon, Israel’s ambassador to India, said he was “extremely hurt” by filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s comments that the film “The Kashmir Files” was not worthy of being screened at the acclaimed International Film Festival of India to become. The event, organized by the Indian government in the western state of Goa, ended on Monday.
Released in March to great acclaim, The Kashmir Files is largely set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when attacks and threats from militants prompted the migration of most Kashmiri Hindus from the disputed Muslim-majority region. Many film critics and Kashmiri Muslims have labeled the film as hateful propaganda, while its fans and supporters, including many ministers in India’s federal government, see it as a vital reflection on the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus, known locally as the Pandits.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the entire territory. In 1989, tens of thousands, mostly Kashmiri Muslims, rose up against Indian rule, leading to a protracted armed conflict in the region.
On Tuesday, Gilon tweeted at Lapid, saying, “SHAME YOU.”
“I’m no film expert, but I know it’s insensitive and presumptuous to talk about historical events before studying them in depth, which is an open wound in India because many of those involved are still there and still one Pay the price,” Gilon tweeted. He also accused Lapid of causing damage to the growing relationship between India and Israel.
The festival jury has distanced themselves from Lapid’s statements, calling them his “personal opinion”. The films “Synonyms” and “Ahad’s Knee” by internationally acclaimed director Lapid have won awards at major festivals.
At the time of its publication, The Kashmir Files was endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and promoted by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party by offering it tax breaks in some states it governs.
However, the film sparked heated debates. His supporters praised him for telling the truth about Kashmiri Hindus, while critics said the film aims to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment at a time when calls for violence against India’s Muslim minorities have increased.
Despite this, the film was a box office hit. Produced on a budget of $2 million, it has grossed more than $43 million to date, making it one of India’s highest-grossing films this year.
The filmmakers of The Kashmir Files have repeatedly said that it exposes the so-called “genocide” of the region’s Hindus, comparing it to Hollywood’s “Schindler’s List,” which tells the story of the Holocaust. But many critics, including some of Bollywood’s top directors, have called it divisive, fraught with factual inaccuracies and provocative.
Hindus lived mostly peacefully alongside Muslims in the Himalayan region of Kashmir for centuries. In the late 1980s, as Kashmir became a battlefield, attacks and threats from militants led to the departure of most Kashmiri Hindus who identified with India’s rule. Many believed the rebellion also aimed to wipe them out. It reduced the Hindus from an estimated 200,000 to a tiny minority of around 5,000 in the Kashmir valley.
Most of the region’s Muslims, who have long opposed Indian rule, deny that Hindus have been systematically targeted and say India helped them move out to portray the freedom struggle in Kashmir as Islamic extremism.
According to official figures, over 200 Kashmiri Hindus have been killed in the region over the past three decades of conflict. Some Hindu groups put the number much higher.
Tensions in Kashmir returned in 2019 when India’s Hindu nationalist government stripped the region of semi-autonomy, split it into two New Delhi-administered federal territories and imposed a crackdown on freedom of expression, accompanied by widespread arrests. Kashmir has since seen a series of targeted killings, including those of Hindus. Police blame anti-India rebels for the killings.
On Tuesday, The Kashmir Files actor Anupam Kher, who plays one of the protagonists, called criticism of the film “pre-planned.”
“If the Holocaust is right, then the Kashmiri Pandit exodus is right,” Kher said in a video posted to Twitter.
The Kashmir Files 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 criticized for presenting unproven conspiracy theories as facts.