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When Satyajit Ray was advised to sue Steven Spielberg: 'ET would not be possible without my script'

Updated on Jun 26, 2021 09:33 PM IST

Did you know that back in 1982, upon the release of Steven Spielberg's ET, it was thought that he had actually plagiarised Satyajit Ray's The Alien.

Satyajit Ray was also an acclaimed writer, who wrote The Alien, which bore many similarities to ET.

A new generation of film and television lovers is waking up to the works of legendary filmmaker-writer Satyajit Ray after the release of Netflix series Ray. An anthology comprising of four stories based on Ray's short stories, the show has been earning praise for its modern retelling of Ray's masterpieces.

Satyajit Ray was among the country's most decorated filmmakers. He was the man behind films such as Pather Panchali, Nayak, Apur Sansar and many more. He even received an honorary Oscar for his contribution in the world of cinema in 1992.

However, did you know that Ray's works were famous not only in India but abroad as well. Filmmakers such as Wes Anderson have been influenced by his works and often pay homage to him with their movies.

But in 1982, Satyajit Ray was told about one filmmaker who may not have been most respectful towards his art. It was none other than multiple Oscar-winner, Steven Spielberg. After the release of Spielberg's blockbuster movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial, Ray had received a phone call from someone.

It was legendary science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke. He called up Ray after a screening of ET and told him of the similarities between it and Ray's script for The Alien. Ray was more heartbroken because he was in talks with producers in Hollywood to adapt his The Alien into a movie. However, due to one reason or the other, the project never took flight.

Speaking to India Today Magazine in 1983 Ray had said, “You know at least two of the Spielberg-Lucas films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET, would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies. Some days back Arthur Clark telephoned me from London, saying that I should file a copyright case and should not take it lying down."

However, Satyajit Ray did not blame the entire industry for it. "Other than this personal complaint, I have no quarrel against the makers of science and space fantasies. I think it’s a genre full of possibilities, though I also have a feeling that Spielberg and Lucas are unnecessarily complicating the stories. The story should be simple, clear, without frills.”

Also read: Ray: Manoj Bajpayee praised for his 'sheer brilliance', fans say 'Musafir Ali was a delight to watch. Take a bow sir'

But Steven denied the allegations, saying he was a high school student when The Alien script was being shared in Hollywood.

While ET was about a young boy in US meeting and befriending an alien and hiding him at his house, The Alien was a similar story of an alien landing in a village in Bengal and becoming friends with a boy.

ET is one of the movies that sparked the trend in movies of aliens visiting only the US every time they landed on Earth. Maybe if they had actually landed in Bengal first, perhaps India would have been an alien hotspot instead.

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