Nadav Lapid is no stranger to art and culture, having been born in Tel Aviv, capital of Israel to a writer father and a film editor mother. Having been trained in the Israeli defense forces like all young people of his country, he is neither stranger to politics, especially hate politics, as his country is in constant conflict with Palestine. Above all as Jew, he knows what propaganda is and how hate politics will ultimately affect people.
He being the chairman of the Jury of the just concluded International Film Festival of India-IFFI- at Goa, one of the oldest Asian film festivals with some degree of credibility so far, has stirred a hornet’s nest, with his open lament, why a pure propaganda film like 'Kashmir Files' was included in the international competition, where they were to judge films on its artistic merit not anything else. ''It seemed to us like a propagandist movie inappropriate for an artistic, competitive section of such a prestigious film festival. I feel totally comfortable to openly share these feelings here with you on stage. Since the spirit of having a festival is to accept also a critical discussion which is essential for art and for life,'' Lapid said in his valedictory address, decrying the inclusion of Kashmir Files in competition section of the film, making his comments go viral eliciting sharp responses from the people behind the film. Though Nadav is a top filmmaker with honours at Berlin, Cannes and Locarno film festivals, his Wikipedia profile has been vandalized and the Israeli ambassador has literally apologized to the government of India, fearing diplomatic repercussions.
Nadav, the filmmaker, has indeed touched a raw nerve of Indian public debate with his comments and exposing the ongoing purge in our institutions including that of films. We as a nation are increasingly being told what to do from the rulers in Delhi, and forget the institutional values of fair play and justice we were taught all these years. Let us take the example of how the present regime had deliberately pushed the film Kashmir Files to whip up the increasing Islamophobia in India, even while Israelis are politically making up with Arab, Islam nations and Pope is visiting Arab nations. The film was given tax concessions in BJP ruled states and officially the government machinery appeared to celebrate it, to the extent that the film landed in the competition section of IFFI, much to the surprise of those with some sense of aesthetics about films. One can understand the film being showcased in Indian Panorama as a new genre of propaganda film making, but to admit it in the competition section with 14 other great movie makers films was indeed a provocation of great level for those international film communities which still treat the festival and Indian films with awe and respect. If the jury can reject iconic Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi's entry 'Perfect Number', one can realize the standard Nadav's jury was giving itself. And the jury chairman of IFFI is entitled to his overall comment on the films he saw for competition and it is customary for Chairman of juries in the past too to share an overview of films he or she saw with the audience at his concluding remarks. Little did Nadav realize that he is addressing a different, less open India, which has started celebrating propaganda of various hues and colours to suit the ruling establishment, not necessarily art and its aesthetic values in films and other arts as in the past.
Pathetic is the word one has to use for the Israeli ambassador who has openly apologized for Nadav's comments, fearing diplomatic repercussions from India. That apology is the testimony that the ruling regime cannot stand anyone showing a mirror to them, let alone a foreign filmmaker whom they invited to be head of the jury at the IFFI. One is sure the repercussions of this events for the IFFI, organizers, the National Film Development Corporation -NFDC- will be much harsher in the coming days than that of Israeli diplomatic mission in India. As NFDC now comprises of the merged entity of all the film institutions of India like Directorate of Film festivals, National Film Archive and Films Division and its focus is more on event management for Central government than promoting a good film culture, it is likely that the axe may fall on the new managers of the corporation for inviting such a Jury chairman with some independent mind. One cannot blame the NFDCs new managers also as most of the experienced leaders in the pre merge entities have left the organizations, as they refused to join a corporation from a government cadre job, leaving raw hands to handle such complex selection process in a film festival.
The newly formed NFDC is yet to stabilize as an organization as its structure and new leaders are relatively new to the international film field to the extent of vetting each of the jury members' broad social and political affiliations. They wouldn't not have expected such a comment from an Israeli born filmmaker as the country and government there is considered as the fountain head of Islamophobia in the world. They overlooked the fact that even Israel is making peace with Arabs and Jews overcoming their long standing hate politics. In a way the 47-year-old Nadav Lapid, a Parisian Jew, represents the dissenting voice of Israelis, going by his observation that Kashmir File is 'vulgar propaganda' and 'inappropriate for an artistic competitive section '.
Indeed a very strong statement which has evoked sharp response from the supporters and detractors of the film as it came from IFFI jury chairman and leaving eggs on the face of the official supporters of the movie in the ruling establishment. If the Indian I and B Ministry thinks that a trash film which they promoted will get an award in India with an international jury chosen by them and thereby justify their dubious promotion of the controversial film, they got their surprise in the form of a public rebuke. The Kashmir Files film was denied permission to be screened in many countries and also in Foreign Correspondents Club -in Delhi that too after a last minute pressure from the foreigners themselves, despite Centre openly encouraging it. The decision makers in the government and I and B Ministry seem to have taken all these early warnings about the film for granted and included the film in the competition section ofIFFI. Clearly, the decision makers have not understood the new digital world and its massive human integration process which technology has initiated. There is continuous pressure on the digital world to discard all shades of hate and segregation of humans across the world. And artists and filmmakers who are known for such a human integration in their belief and philosophies through their work from time immemorial are at home with such pressures and Nadav's comments on Kashmir Files, despite all controversies stands out as a testimony to this increasing digital pressure for human integration and negation of hate of all shades.
(V K Cherian is a film writer and has authored two books; India's film society movement: its Journey and Impact-Sage 2017 and Chalachitra Vicharam, VC Books, 2021)