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From Bankubabur Bandhu to Avatar: The true saga behind Ray’s Alien

Hindustan Times | ByRanjan Das Gupta, New Delhi
May 04, 2018 11:31 AM IST

On Satyajit Ray’s 97’th birth anniversary, we take a trip down the memory lane to know about more about Satyajit Ray’s Hollywood project— Alien.

In 1962, Ray’s family magazine for children, Sandesh published a science fiction story by Satyajit Ray entitled Bankubabur Bandhu. It was the spring board for the concept of The Alien. By the middle ‘60s, Satyajit Ray was in contact with Mike Wilson (a professional diver from Ceylon), a friend of the noted science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. After hearing a brief outline of The Alien from Satyajit Ray, Clarke discovered potential of an international film in it.

In 1966, Satyajit Ray visited London and held talks with Clarke. “Baba was invited by Stanley Kubrick to view the shooting of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. He visited the Elstree Studio set and was really impressed. Upon his return, he penned a script entitled ‘Avatar’ in English,” his son, Sandeep Ray recalls.

Bankubabur Bandhu — illustration by Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray’s journey to Hollywood was in 1967. He, accompanied by Mike Wilson went to the offices of Columbia Pictures. A number of copies of the script were presented to them by Ray. Reminiscences Sandip Ray, “Baba had initial talks with Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen. They were impressed by the story but were too busy with other projects. Then he was reminded of Robert Redford, but the upcoming actor was not approached due to many reasons.”

Peter Sellers wrote to Satyajit Ray in 1968, in which he apologised to Ray, for using a phrase from the script of his film, The Alien.

Peter Sellers was ideally suited to perform the character of a Marwari businessman in ‘Avatar’. Sellers was initially ready to play the roll but was later reluctant. There were differences between him and Ray, as the former wanted his character modified.

Stanley Kubrick wrote to Satyajit Ray in 1967 asking him to work with his lawyer Louis Blau.

Says Sandip Ray,” Columbia Pictures wanted the title ‘Avatar’ to be changed in English. So it was named ‘The Alien’. Besides Baba was warned to keep away from Mike Wilson who was a dubious character.” Satyajit Ray sadly shelved ‘The Alien’. He later viewed Steven Spielberg’s‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’ at the Venice Film Festival in 1982 and was astonished to notice strange resemblances to his script of ‘The Alien’. He wrote about this to Arthur C. Clarke. But Clarke warned Ray that, if he resorted to legal action he would have to devote his entire time travelling to USA, attending court sessions. With his ailing health, Satyajit Ray decided to abandon ‘The Alien’. Very few know Spielberg was one of those who were instrumental to recommend Ray for the Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

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