The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is not counted among the most coveted in the world, but the 53rd edition in Goa this year was attracting serious international attention — as was evident in the regular coverage of it by a publication of the stature of ‘Variety’ — because of the association of France as a ‘country of focus’, the Season 4 premiere of the hit Israeli web series, ‘Fauda’, discussions such as the one between A.R. Rahman and Shekhar Kapur on AI and the metaverse, and a pretty significant presence of Bollywood.
But it all came crashing down on the closing evening, thanks to the couple of sentences spoken in the course of a speech by the jury chairman, Nadav Lapid, on ‘The Kashmir Files’, which was one of the 15 films in the competition section. The Golden Bear-winning director and screenwriter was holding forth on the artistic merit — or lack of it — of the film, but two words that he used, ‘vulgar’ and ‘propaganda’, triggered off a tsunami of reactions almost entirely against him.
That he was in Goa on an invitation of the Government of India — a point made by the film’s director, Vivek Agnihotri, in a video response — and was speaking in front of the Union I&B Minister, Anurag Thakur, should have made Lapid choose his words carefully.
He should have been a tad more diplomatic, for he’s no stranger to IFFI — his 2014 film, ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’, won its lead star the Best Actor Award at IFFI — and he must have known that the ‘The Kashmir Files’ had been blessed by the Government of India. But he’s not known to keep his political views to himself.
Had Lapid been in India, and anyone who only reads the Wikipedia entry about him would know it, he would have been labelled a member of ‘toolkit’ or ‘tukde tukde’ gang for his consistent opposition to right-wing politics.
He would have been treated as the male equivalent of a Swara Bhaskar (who was the first to retweet Lapid’s views about the film aired at IFFI) or a Richa Chadha (who stirred a hornet’s nest with her comment on Galwan, getting a whole host of film personalities all worked up, from Akshay Kumar and Raveena Tandon to Madhur Bhandarkar and Adivi Sesh).
Then, how did the I&B Ministry, or the Festival Director, Ravinder Bhakar, who’s also the head of both the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) and the National Film Development Corporation, or any of the bigwigs associated with organising the event, from Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to seasoned film personalities such as Karan Johar, Khushboo Sundar, Prasoon Joshi, Priyadarshan and Shoojit Sircar, not anticipate the potential problem of inviting Lapid to head the jury?
Worse, the name must have gone through the Embassy of Israel, so it cannot escape the responsibility — despite Ambassador Naor Gilon’s open letter chastising Lapid — of willy-nilly clearing the way for what has turned out to be a national embarrassment.
Politicians, from BJP’s social media chief Amit Malviya to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, film personalities of the stature of Anupam Kher and even an aggrieved Vivek Agnihotri, director of ‘The Kashmir Files’, may keep fulminating against Lapid till the cows come home, but it won’t help, for Kashmir is back in the international gaze for an avoidable reason.