Israeli director and International Film Festival of India (IFFI) international jury chairperson Nadav Lapid was at the centre of furious debate on Tuesday for his comments on The Kashmir Files with Israel's ambassador saying he abused India's invitation and jury members distancing themselves from his views.
As controversy grew, a day after the director described the The Kashmir Files as "propaganda" and “vulgar”, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, actors such as Anupam Kher and Ranvir Shorey and the film's director Vivek Agnihotri also joined the discourse against him.
There were some voices, including from the Congress and some in the film fraternity, who spoke up his defence.
Lapid's surprise comments on the much discussed film came at the closing ceremony of the 53rd edition of the International Film Festival of India on Monday attended by Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur as well as actors Akshay Kumar and Asha Parekh.
Agnihotri has compared The Kashmir Files, which portrays the exodus of Kashmir Pandits from the Valley due to militancy in the early 1990s, to Steven Spielberg's Holocaust epic “Schindler's List”.
The 1993 Oscar winner was referenced by many people, including Israel Ambassador to India Naor Gilon who wrote an open letter put out in a series of tweets.
"As a son of a holocaust survivor, I was extremely hurt to see reactions in India to you that are doubting Schindler's List, the Holocaust and worse. I unequivocally condemn such statements. There is no justification. It does show the sensitivity of the Kashmir issue here," he said.
Gilon added that Lapid -- who is viewed as an anti-establishment director -- should be "ashamed" as he had "abused in the worst way" the Indian invitation to him to chair the panel of judges.
The Kashmir Files, which polarised opinions following its release in March and went on to become a blockbuster hit, was screened at IFFI on November 22 as part of the Indian panorama section.
Indian film director Sudipto Sen, who was part of the international film jury, distanced himself and other members from Lapid's statement.
"Whatever has been said by IFFI 2022 Jury Chairman Mr Nadav Lapid about the film Kashmir Files, from the stage of closing ceremony of 53rd IFFI was completely his personal opinion," Sen wrote in a note shared on Twitter.
Sen said he and other jury members, including Spanish documentary filmmaker Javier Angulo Barturen and French film editor Pascale Chavance, made no mention about their “likes or dislikes".
Comments by Lapid were made in his "personal capacity", he stressed.
BJP's Amit Malviya compared Lapid's condemnation of The Kashmir Files to the denial of the Holocaust.
"For the longest time, people even denied the Holocaust and called Schindler's List a propaganda, just like some are doing to Kashmir Files. Truth eventually triumphs, no matter what," the party's IT department head said.
His colleague, BJP's Goa spokesperson Savio Rodrigues, said Lapid's statement “is an insult to the horrors faced by Kashmir Hindus (in the past)".
"You can critique a film artistically but to term the truth about the brutality faced by the Kashmiri Pandits propaganda is shameful,” he added.
Agnihotri also spoke about “truth” in a cryptic media post and said “it is the most dangerous thing” as it can make people lie.
Kher, who starred in The Kashmir Files, added that truth will always trump falsehood.
He also shared a series of stills from "Schindler's List", a true life story about German industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during World War II. His post also included a picture of himself in The Kashmir Files.
Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit called on Union minister Thakur to seek "serious action" against Lapid and said choosing as international jury head was a lapse on the part of the festival organisers.
"Dear @ianuragthakur ji . I as a #KashmiriPandit & who is a victim of genocide seek a serious actn agnst Mr. #NadavLapid Jury head of IFFI 2022 fr calling d depiction of our tragedy as vulgar . Hs hs added salt to our wounds&hence shld b made to tender a apology .#KashmirFiles (sic)," he wrote.
There were also some who spoke up for Paris-based Lapid, known for his award winning film “Synonyms” .
Hate gets called out, eventually, said Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate.
"PM Modi, his govt, BJP, the RW ecosystem feverishly promoted The Kashmir Files. A movie rejected by International Film Festival Of India. Jury Head Nadav Lapid called it ‘propaganda, vulgar movie - inappropriate for the film festival'," Shrinate tweeted.
Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi shared a video link of the Israeli filmmaker's speech where he criticised The Kashmir Files.
"A sensitive issue of justice for Kashmiri Pandits was sacrificed at the altar of propaganda. This is a must listen segment at the #IFFIGoa2022," Chaturvedi said.
Actor Swara Bhasker, known for being unabashedly vocal about her opinions, shared a link to the news story about Lapid's remarks at the closing ceremony of the film gala.
"Apparently it's pretty clear to the world .." Bhasker wrote in the caption.
With Lapid's comment, The Kashmir Files, written and directed by Agnihotri and produced by Zee Studios, is back in the news.
The film was called out for its problematic politics by a section of critics and authors when it was released but performed exceptionally well at the box office by minting over Rs 330 crore.
The movie also sparked debate among political parties after several BJP-ruled states, including Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, gave it exemption from entertainment tax.