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It seems when it comes to critiquing, some filmmakers do not mince words

It is always very interesting to read about directors talking about their cinematic mentors and favourite filmmakers, but one rarely comes across directors who criticise others of their trade; such criticisms are confined to private gatherings over copious alcohol and close friends. Mutual admiration in public forums is the general norm, even if one does not admire — or outright hates another’s films. No one wants to get into the bad books of his peers and receive bad press; every celebrity puts on a pleasant and charming façade for the sake of propriety.

But there have been instances, both in the west and in India where certain directors have openly criticised others with a venom that is quite unexpected. Iconic French director Jean Luc Godard once remarked about Steven Spielberg, “I don’t know him personally; I don’t think his films are good.” Spielberg has been at the receiving end of such criticisms from other filmmakers too, one of the most disparaging being by British filmmaker Alex Cox who said, “Spielberg isn’t a filmmaker; he is a confectioner.”

Quentin Tarantino, a great admirer of Godard had named one of his film companies after one of Godard’s film — Band of Outsiders. Instead of reciprocating the gesture, Godard had caustically remarked, “Tarantino would have done better to give me some money.”

Well, others have paid back Godard in the same coin; not everybody holds him in the high esteem as the rest of the world. Swedish master Ingmar Bergman commented, “I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual, and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring.”

Orson Welles has been more scathing about Godard: “His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin.” Werner Herzog says of Godard, “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung-fu film.”

What Bergman has to say about Orson Welles’s iconic Citizen Kane takes the cake. Considered by many as the greatest film ever made, Bergman observed, “For me he’s just a hoax. It’s empty. It’s not interesting. It’s dead… I think it is a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie has got is absolutely unbelievable.”

To turn the focus on Indian film industry — one of the most hypocritical when it comes to outward appearances — one stumbles into some very interesting criticisms. Long ago, in the ’60s when Mrinal Sen had made his second feature film Akash Kusum, Satyajit Ray had criticised the film and the then respectable English newspaper The Statesman had carried out a debate between the two filmmakers in which an exasperated Ray had commented that “Akash Kusum is crow’s film, is a crow’s film, is a crow’s film.”

Mrinal Sen had never been awed by Ray’s cinematic stature and had

quite often declared that he wanted to pull down the man from his pedestal. Much later in his career, in the ’80s, Sen got into a verbal duel with Mahesh Bhatt who found his films boring. Sen, with his trademark wit, had retorted: “Had I not proved boring to Mahesh Bhatt, I would have doubted my own credibility.”

Perhaps, the most damning criticism of a cinematic icon came from Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee when he declared in a recent interview that Ritwik Ghatak was a grossly overrated director.

To bring the focus on the Hindi film industry, we have Mahesh Bhatt again, declaring unequivocally that Sanjay Leela Bhansali is the most overrated director, an emotion shared by many who find him the king of kitsch.

Karan Johar has been at the receiving end of a lot of flak from different quarters. Anurag Kashyap, now bum chums with the director, had once been his most vocal critic, while Ram Gopal Varma spewed venom on the kind of feel-good, family oriented cinema represented by the likes of Karan Johar, Yash Chopra and the Barjatiyas. Varma made fun of Johar’s “It’s all about loving your family” dialogue in numerous interviews and summed up his attitude to Hindi cinema by declaring, “I hate karwa chauths and joint families; I hate bahus.”

Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer

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