Naor Gilon, Israel’s ambassador to India, said on Tuesday that the criticism of The Kashmir Files by International Film Festival of India jury President Nadav Lapid could have implications on Tel Aviv’s diplomatic team in New Delhi.
“You will go back to Israel thinking that you are bold and ‘made a statement,” Gilon wrote in an open letter to the Israeli filmmaker. “We, the representatives of Israel, would stay here. You should see our DM [direct message] boxes following your ‘bravery’ and what implications it may have on the team under my responsibility.”
At the closing ceremony of the film festival on Monday, Lapid had described Vivek Agnihotri’s film “a propaganda, vulgar movie” and unworthy of being included in the event’s International Competition section.
In his letter, Gilon said that Lapid should be ashamed for his comments.
“You have abused in the worst way the Indian invitation to chair the panel of judges at IFFI Goa as well as the trust, respect and warm hospitality they have bestowed on you,” he wrote.
The ambassador, however, stressed that the relations between India and Israel were very strong and will survive the “damage” inflicted by Lapid. “As a human being I feel ashamed and want to apologize to our hosts for the bad manner in which we repaid them for their generosity and friendship,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Consul General to midwest India, Kobbi Shoshani, said that The Kashmir Files was not propaganda but was a “strong movie” that depicted the suffering of Kashmiris, PTI reported.
“The first person I called in the morning was Anupam Kher, my friend, just to apologise,” Shoshani said at a press conference. “Apologise about a speech that was a private opinion. His [Lapid’s remarks] have nothing to do with the state of Israel, officially and unofficially.”
Actor Anupam Kher, who was part of the cast of the film, was also present at the press conference.
Kher called Lapid’s remarks shameful, reported ANI. “From a community [Jews] who have suffered holocaust...he comes from that community and for him to say that it had also pained those people who are the victims of this tragedy,” he added.
The actor also alleged that Lapid’s statement seemed to be planned as what he described as the “toolkit gang” echoed his opinion on the social media.
Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a comment on Lapid’s criticism, Agnihotri wrote in a tweet: “Truth is the most dangerous thing. It can make people lie.”
Opposition leaders and journalists have, however, backed Lapid’s criticism of the film.
Congress Social Media and Digital Platforms Chairperson Supriya Shrinate noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindutva groups had promoted the film.
“Hate gets called out, eventually,” she added.
Founding member of Democratic Azad Party Salman Nizami called the episode a disgrace.
“India’s biggest film festival and a Cannes award winning jury head calls Vivek’s trashy, vulgar The Kashmir Files out,” he tweeted. “This is what happens when you play with the sentiments of public. Agni[hotri] and [Anupam] Kher made crores, KPs [Kashmiri Pandits are] still fighting for their rights!”
Journalist Rana Ayyub tweeted that what Lapid said should have been called out by Bollywood artists, filmmakers and heads of censor boards.
Political strategist and former Aam Aadmi Party’s social media head Ankit Lal questioned what the supporters of the movie had to say now.
On Monday, Lapid criticised The Kashmir Files in front of an audience that included Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Singh Thakur, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Union Ministers of State L Murugan and Shripad Naik.
The Israeli director said that “all the jury members” were “disturbed and shocked” by Agnihotri’s film, which explores the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir in the 1990s.
However, hours later, filmmaker Sudipto Sen, the only Indian member of the jury, claimed that Lapid was speaking in his personal capacity.
In addition to Lapid and Sen, American producer Jinko Gotoh, French film editor Pascale Chavance, French documentary filmmaker Javier Angulo Barturen were part of the jury that evaluated 15 entries.