11th June, 1982, director Steven Spielberg released his movie “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial “, which beat then block buster film “Star Wars” with its $359 million business alone in North America, the (total) figure for the world was $619 million. Again it was released in 1985 and 2002 and earned $60 million and $68 million respectively. Most recently in 9th October, 2012 its 30th Anniversary edition was released in Blue Ray version.
Can you recognize the film? Well, here in Bollywood we have a very similar parallel story to it “Koi Mil Gaya”. And the director was Steven Spielberg who’s Jurassic Park leaves us spellbound. ET was nominated in 9 different category for 55th Academy Award (Oscar) and won 4 of it : Best Original Score, Best Sound (Robert Knudson, Robert Glass, Dan Digirolamo, Gene Cantamessa), Best Sound Effects Editing (Charles L Campbell, Ben Brutt), Best Visual Effects. Director of the Oscar winning movie(Best Movie : 55th Academic Award) “Gandhi”, Mr. Richard Attenborough said “I was certain that not only would ET win, but that it should win. It was inventive, powerful, wonderful. I make more mundane movies”.
But among all the news one more news was suppressed, probably it was the biggest news. According to media report “After ET came out there were two allegations of plagiarism. One by play writer Lisa Litchfield, who filed an unsuccessful $750 lawsuit, and one by Satyajit Ray, who alleged that ET was plagiarized from his unproduced screenplay ‘The Alien’”. Yes you read it correctly, Satyajit Ray alleged Spielberg, but why? Lets try to figure out.
It was 1962, Satyajit Ray wrote science fiction story “Bankubabur Bandhu (later translated as ‘Mr Banku’s Friend’)” for their family magazine Sandesh. Where one day a UFO landed on a village of bengal and Mr Ang (the Alien) becomes a very good friend of the village boy “Haba”. Sounds similar with Koi Mil Gaya script?
One year was passed, in 1963 Ray was in London. During normal conversation with his friend the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, Ray expressed his interest towards making a film about aliens. After hearing the story of “Bankubabur Bandhu” Clarke was spellbound. While in all Hollywood movies America seems to be busy fighting with aliens, Ray’s Mr Ang is making friendship. Before Ray its only Robert A. Heinlein in his book “Stranger in a Strange Land” in 1961 dared to draw a friendship between alien and human.
Ray was in Calcutta, one day he got a call from a stranger who addressed himself as Mike Wilson, a good friend of Arthur C. Clarke, Film Writer and Producer by Profession and he lived in Colombo. He claimed of having good relations and links inside Hollywood and after heard about Ray’s story about the alien from Clarke, he was very excited about it. Ray initially ignored him, but one morning Wilson came to Calcutta, he came to Ray’s house.
After a lot of discussions, the final script was formed. How was the script? Biographer W. Andrew Robinson in his book “The Inner Eye” stated “In a series of fantastically quick, short steps over the lotus leaves, the alien reaches the shore of the pond. He looks down at the grass, examines the blade and is off hopping into the bamboo grove. There the alien sees a small plant. His eyes light up with a yellow light. He passes his hand over the plant and flowers come out. A thin soft high pitched laugh shows the alien is pleased.”
Satyajit realized, as Hollywood is producing his film, casting Hollywood faces will reach him to a greater audience. In 1967 Columbia Pictures agreed to work with him. Personalities like the legend Saul Bass agreed for graphic design. Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando agreed to act in his film. In April 1967 Satyajit reached Hollywood. Ray demanded to have Peter Seller as the Indian Businessman in his movie. So as Mr. Peter Seller was called. To know Satyajit and his works a special screening of Ray’s film “Charulata” was shown to Peter at his hotel in Paris. Immediately after watching the film he negotiated with Ray.
Mr. Wilson already started promoted Satyajit Ray such a way that sounds like Ray came to provide oxygen to the dying Film Industries of Hollywood. All was happening under Columbia’s expenditure. In between a very strange incident took place. The script was copyrighted mentioning Wilson and Satyajit both as co-writers.
Ray was in Calcutta then, one day he received a letter and it was from Peter Seller. After watching Pather Panchali the excited actor wrote
“In the year of 1967 and in the month of December
An auspicious month coming as it does at the end of the year
And not the slightest alike to November
Is a month that I will long remmember
I received one day
From Satyajit Ray,
Information I required without delay
So that I could say to my friends the evening of the day
The film you are about to see
Is the film of a Trilogy
And is called Pather Panchali
In which there is a scene of two children in a field of barley
Watching a train go by
Under an azure sky
So beautiful you want to die. “
Ray was happy after reading this. One day Wilson called him and said the Film Copyrights had been transferred from Columbia USA to Columbia UK. Ray paid no attention to this issue. But when he arrived London he felt Wilson had slowly made it his own project. Almost all casting had been done by Wilson himself. But the next incident gave him a shock when Columbia asked Ray whether he received the advance of £10,000 which was send through Wilson.
Ray decided to return to Calcutta. On his way back to Airport, Wilson booked a Rolls Royce for him and asked to sign in some documents. Ray refused to sign and told him to send those papers to Calcutta, to his house. Though those documents never reached Calcutta. One day someone from Columbia UK came to Ray’s house and offered him that still they want to work with him but on one condition, it should be without Wilson “We will back the film to the very end, only on one condition – Mike Wilson needs to be out of it”. Ray didn’t agree. Meanwhile Peter told that he didn’t like the role he had been offered, Ray was angry and replied to Peter exactly in Peter’s style
“Dear Peter if you had wanted a bigger part
Why you should have told me right at the start
By disclosing it at this junction
You have surely punctured
The Alien balloon
Which I daresay will now be grounded soon
Causing a great deal of dismay
To Satyajit Ray”
Peter never replied to this letter. Columbia Pictures, Ismail Merchant (ex agent of Peter Seller) tried to convince Ray a few times but Ray never returned to Hollywood. 15 long years been passed and when ET released in 1982, Ray blasted in ‘Sight and Sound’ a British Film Institute magazine “E.T. would not have been possible without my script of the Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies”
Spielberg fans said it was a fine co incidence only. Really was it? 1967 Satyajit’s ‘The Alien’ and 1982 Spielberg’s “E.T” both was Columbia projects. And not only ET, Spielberg and his company Dreamworks had been alleged for movies like Amistad, Chicken Run, Twister, What lies Beneath.
Arthur C. Clarke was shocked after watching ET “Arthur C. Clarke, saw a striking similarities in the movies to Ray’s earlier script”. Andrew Robinson too was shocked “E.T….. which began life as a Columbia project, has much in common with Ray’s concept “. ET was 1st Hollywood movie where alien – human friendship was made. Michael Sragow of ‘Satyajit Ray Film and Study Centre, University of California, Santa Cruz’ in his ‘An Art Wedded to truth’ wrote “Still the best scenes in E.T such as the one of the boy hero showing the creature his stars wars figures, have the patience and controlled excitement of Pather Panchali”.
But what was Spielberg’s reaction? He denied the allegation saying “I was a kid in high school when his script was circulating in Hollywood”. Really? Star Weekend Magazine started investing, and they found “Spielberg had graduated from high school (Sarotoga High School, California) in 1965 and began his career as a Director in Hollywood in 1969”. In 1968 Spielberg started as an intern in editing and in 1969 he became the youngest Director of Hollywood who worked for Universal Pictures. In this 1967-68 period Ray was working for The Alien and that time Spielberg was active in Hollywood and not in school.
In January 1983, Arthur C. Clarke called Ray “He suggested to Ray that he contact Spielberg and point out the resembles”. And Ray replied in his own style which should be written on golden words and should be told to every coming generation “Artists, have better things to do with film” a line can be delivered only by him.
1992, ‘legion d honnur’ Satyajit Ray receiving Honorary Oscar (Life time achievement) from his favorite actress Audrey Hepburn for “In recognition of his rare mastery of the art of motion pictures and of his profound humanitarian outlook, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world “. Receiving the award laying on Calcutta based hospital made him proud that today Hollywood became mature by his influence or still he had the unspoken pains within him? We don’t have the answers, probably that was our Apu’s world.