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If art tells a story and does not do propaganda on behalf of victims, it loses its purpose: What Nadav Lapid needs to learn

When cornered, Nadav Lapid concedes that whether a work of Art is propaganda and vulgar or not- is a subjective decision and may vary from person to person but fails to explain why then he took to a public platform to denigrate a movie.

Propaganda – The word owes its origin to an entity called The Sacred Congregation for Propagation of the Faith (Congregation for Propagation of the Faith). This entity was established in 1622. The term became political for the first time Georgi Plekhanov proposed it a as valid tool for Marxist agitation in his work Our Differences in 1885. Lenin in 1902, in his essay What is to be Done, justifies Propaganda as a tool complementary to agitation writing We must without fail devote serious attention to propaganda and agitation… as a key tool to the Communist revolution. This idea of disinformation became sinister when Hitler’s  Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party or Nazis used disinformation to further their political agenda causing unprecedented cruelty to the Jewish citizens of Germany, with a structured campaign carried out by creating a Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.  

Merriam-Webster gives three definitions to it, first is the historical reference of religious connotation mentioned above, and second is the spreading of ideas, information or rumour for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution a cause or a person. It also alternately defines it as ideas, facts or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause. Cambridge Dictionary defines it as Information, ideas, opinion or images, often only to give one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with an intention of influencing people’s opinion. 

Now as we see, propaganda can be used to lie and support the perpetrator of the Oppression as in the case of Nazi Germans creating a narrative that the subjugation of the Jews was not only desirable, rather was necessary. On the positive side, using art to oppose such brutal oppression by magnifying the atrocities of the Nazis, could also, in the most honest definition be termed as Propaganda. The cause shall define whether the propaganda is noble or not. Any art which sides with the oppressed and tries to build an opinion in support of the oppressed, the brutalised and the wronged ones, by definition is still propaganda but a positive one.

When Nadav Lapid, the pro-Palestine and anti-Israel film-maker invited as a guest at the International Film Festival of India organised by the Government of India, called Vivek Agnihotri’s telling of the true and factual story of brutal violence in Kashmir in the 90s aimed at wiping out the Hindu population from the Valley to make it an Islamic State, a Propaganda, from all indications, he did not mean it positive propaganda meant to propagate the truth. In the aftermath of the outrage at the insensitive and somewhat out-of-place dressing down of The Kashmir File, the man at the centre of the whole controversy, Nadav Lapid came to one of the TV channels and stood his ground and left no scope for any benefit of the doubt, insisted foolishly that his calling the Film propaganda was in a negative sense. Now, this should imply two things, one, what the Film depicted is based upon lies, and two, that it is meant to injure a cause. 

Well, if one has seen the movie, it stitches the narrative around the mass killings of Hindus by Muslim fanatics in Kashmir with the express objective of carving out an Islamic State out of Hindu-majority secular India with the support of the Islamic State of Pakistan; its story is woven across few critical events. These events shown in the movie through which the story moves are the killing of an Engineer in Telecom Department BK Ganjoo in March 1990, the killing of High Court Judge Neelkanth Ganjoo, the Murder of IAF officers, the brutal killing of Girija Tikku and the Nadimarg Massacre of 2003. One key feature of negative propaganda is that it is based on lies.

Now let us look at all of these incidents in isolation. Was BK Ganjoo killed in 1990? Yes, The Hindu, a known anti-Hindu newspaper carried a report which also speaks of his wife, Mrs Vijaya Ganjoo, now living in Delhi, having been driven out of Kashmir, the land of their ancestors by the Terrorists (see the Link, somehow having an unrelated picture from Gujarat in a Kashmir story). The killing is a story of worst betrayal and brutality where allegedly the terrorists made the grieving wife of a slain man eat rice soaked in the blood of the victim. The second story is about the killing of Judge Neelkanth Ganjoo. He was murdered in broad daylight. It was alleged that he was murdered to avenge the sentencing of terror accused Maqbul Bhatt.

As the victim was a High Court Judge, his assassination is a matter of public record and the story cannot be made up. The third incident in the movie is the gruesome rape and murder of Hindu woman Girija Tickoo. She was raped and murdered by cutting in the woodcutting sawing machine on June 4th 1990, while she was still alive. This was also reported in the newspaper and a factual real incident.  Another incident which is shown in the movie across which the story moves is the Nadimarg Massacre of 24 Hindus including the infants (NewYorkTime Article is linked). As for the mass-scale exodus of Hindus from Kashmir, the visible proof of that is the Kashmiri Refugee camps in Delhi. 

Now we have established that there is enough documented proof of all the incidents built as a story around one single family, we know that this is not misinformation or a lie for which it can be termed as propaganda. That leaves the second part of the definition of Propaganda, which is damaging the cause. The only cause this is harmed here is that of the fanatics, who wanted to establish an Islamic state on the lines of the one made in Syria infamous for bloodshed and women and child slaves. The clause that it supports is that of the Hindu victims who were threatened to leave the valley by the announcement made from the Mosques. Now, if a threat is released from places of worship, then how is it not an act of religious terror is hard to believe and to support it is only supporting the cause of religious terror. 

If Art tells a story and does not do propaganda on behalf of victims and oppressed, then it loses its purpose. Any art and positive propaganda associated with a German story from the world war needs to side with the Jews, not the Germans. That it moves the opinion of the masses could be one reason for calling it Propaganda. But then is that not the purpose of Art, to move people’s opinion – in favour of peace, in support of love, in defiance of oppression and terror? Why would create a word of Art at all if it leaves no impression on people, changes no opinion, or creates no ideas to improve a world ridden with violence and pain?

Another charge that Nadav Lapid makes is that the movie is vulgar. The term Vulgar comes from Latin Vulgaris, which is derived from Vulgus, meaning Common Folks. Although some amount of snobbishness is visible from the way Nadav lists out how he has been on the jury of many prestigious Film Festivals, still, why attack a movie merely because it caters to the sensibilities of common folks? The Kashmir Files is about the minorities of Kashmir facing Muslim majoritarianism. It is a movie about the pain that fell upon the common people- the telecom Engineer BK Ganjoo, the Librarian Girija Tickoo, the poor villagers of Nadimarg, common people abandoned by the state in front of the fanatics. The movie does not claim to be clever or crafty. It merely claims to be truthful and supports the cause of the victims. It does not tell the story of both sides. In this story, there is only one side. Just as the story of the Holocaust does not speak about the unjust treaty of the first World war which broke the back of German pride.

In Nazi Germany, it was the Jews who were the victims, not the Germans. A movie is not a mathematical equation where two sides have to be equal. Art is always a creation of the opinionated, just as Nadav has a very poor opinion of his own homeland which he believes has something rotten. This movie evokes very naked emotions towards violence in human mind, vulgar emotions, if I may say. There is nothing lofty or philosophical about the deaths depicted by Vivek in the movie. The acts of violence are deeply depressing and often disgusting. They do not leave the audience as angry as they leave her sad. Many half-educated men have jumped into it, once again attacking the movie and claiming it will create Islamophobia. Phobia by definition is fear, not hatred, and it is a nature-given defence mechanism.

It rises when one finds violence and terror, not because someone wants one to be fearful. The way to stop Islamophobia is not to threaten people to desist from being Islamophobes, but rather stop threatening people and to stop creating absolute terror of the faith. It is for the followers of the faith to stop being intolerant and violent. To demand that a film built on factual incidents of violence in Kashmir should be pleasant and not vulgar is insane and insensitive at the same time. This demand of Nadav is in reality fascism in art. As Susan Sontag wrote in her 1974 Essay, Fascinating Fascism- Fascist Art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorises death. This is what the Kashmir Files does not do. It presents death in its mournful sadness and painful ugliness. Maybe the reason why a practitioner of fascist art, Nadav, himself hated the movie is not that it is not truthful, but because it is too real. As Susan Sontag writes in the same essay quoted above that Fascist art scorns realism in the name of idealism. 

When cornered, Nadav Lapid concedes that whether a work of Art is propaganda and vulgar or not- is a subjective decision and may vary from person to person but fails to explain why then he took to a public platform to denigrate a movie. There were Fifteen movies in the run. Out of them Costa Rican film I have Electric Dreams has been chosen by the jury. Nadav claims now that his criticism of the movie had nothing to do with the politics around it. But then he did not comment on art, nor did he utter one word about any of the other movies which did not make it to the winner’s place. Obviously, they were not unto the mark on one count or another, as far as the art of Film-making is concerned. If he had not made the highly political statement, picking and lampooning one movie, it would have passed without any notice. A seasoned man of many platforms like Nadav must have known that and made the statement for a purpose. 

While Nadav has not commented on any lobby at play here, much like Jack Dorsey’s infamous ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’ moment, those who are hell-bent on defending him, mostly those leaning towards left and Congress, bring forth another lame argument. They claim that Vivek Agnihotri has made money out of The Kashmir Files. Which other movie maker has claimed that they made the movie not for making money but because their movie carried a higher purpose. The second leg of their argument is that the Movie is supported by the ruling Narendra Modi Government. Both of these two are such lame arguments. When they claim BJP supported the movie depicting the horrors of Hindus left alone in a Muslim-majority state by an apathetic state, they imply that the opposition opposes the movie for the same reason.

Also, there is no evidence of the claim that the movie was promoted by the ruling BJP, in any material terms. On the other hand, the movie Gandhi made by a British filmmaker was funded with seven million dollars of Indian taxpayers’ money. The movie earned around 127 Million Dollars Worldwide. This is how a commercial private venture of a foreign production house was funded by the Government of India. Nadav has himself made a few movies. His own body of work mostly includes short films and documentaries. The fact that he abused the privilege given by the Government of India as a guest and Chief of Jury in an Indian event and that he was invited in the first place, both are problematic. As for the makers of the Kashmir Files, more power to Vivek Agnihotri and his team.

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Saket Suryesh
Saket Suryesh
A technology worker, writer and poet, and a concerned Indian. Writer, Columnist, Satirist. Published Author of Collection of Hindi Short-stories 'Ek Swar, Sahasra Pratidhwaniyaan' and English translation of Autobiography of Noted Freedom Fighter, Ram Prasad Bismil, The Revolutionary. Interested in Current Affairs, Politics and History of Bharat.

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