NEW DELHI: At a joint press conference with Anupam Kher, the lead actor of "The Kashmir Files", Israel consul general
said the film was not propaganda and "carried a very strong message".
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the 53rd edition of Iffi, the government's marquee film festival, Israeli filmmaker
, who headed the international competition section, addressed an audience, including Union ministers Anurag Thakur and L Murugan, Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner Asha Parekh, Akshay Kumar and Rana Daggubati, and said he and his fellow jurors were "disturbed and shocked" by the inclusion of "The Kashmir Files" in the artistic competition segment since it was "a propaganda, vulgar movie".
"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," Lapid said.
"I feel totally comfortable to share openly these feelings here with you on stage since the spirit that we felt in the festival can truly accept also a critical discussion, which is essential for art and for life," he added.
Israel ambassador Gilon, however, disagreed. He also said while the friendship between India and Israel is "very strong" and "will survive the damage" inflicted by Lapid's remarks, the filmmaker should reserve his criticism for the government in Israel.
Former Israeli ambassador Daniel Carmon also unequivocally condemned Lapid's statements.
Lapid's remarks left the political spectrum divided. Goa CM Pramod Sawant said he misused the Iffi platform to heap insult on the horrors faced by Kashmiri Pandits, but was countered by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who backed Lapid's charge and said "The Kashmir Files" was "propaganda by one party against another".
"A party and the government were busy with publicity... but the maximum number of killings in Kashmir occurred after this film was released. Kashmiri Pandits and security personnel were killed," Raut said.
Congress's Shashi Tharoor waded in, too, saying the inclusion of the film had "embarrassed the nation before the world". "It is widely known that 'The Kashmir Files' ... has received official and unofficial backing from the governing party (sic) and its minions in the film establishment, since it serves the purpose of fomenting the Islamophobia that some in the Sangh Parivar are happy to promote," he said.
Lapid was pilloried and branded a "supporter of Palestine" on social media, and even faced a police complaint against him in Goa for outraging "Hindu sentiments".
While there were no comments from most of his international juror colleagues, Indian filmmaker Sudipto Sen said Lapid's remarks were no reflection of the jury's views. "As jurors, we are assigned to judge the technical, aesthetic quality and socio-cultural relevance of a film. We don't indulge in any kind of political comments on any film and if it is done, it is completely in a personal capacity," Sen said.
The filmmaker's controversial comments exposed the "left vs right" fault-lines and led to questions over his appointment as jury chair at Iffi. There was considerable consternation and dismay among a section of pro-Hindutva handles which questioned the event organisers over their failure to run a thorough background check into Lapid's well-known "anti-establishment, Palestine-supporting" antecedents, and also the fact that he remains a deeply polarising figure back home.