Hollywood Rip Off
This weekend I have been holed up in my apartment, watching the poetic classic movies of Sir Satyajit Ray. I had seen some of his movies before, of course, but I was way too young then to appreciate his work . I was barely 6/7 years old when my mom would ask me to watch 'Goopy Gyne bagha Byne' or 'Apu Trilogy' with her and I would run away because the movies were in B&W and as a little kid, black and white did not capture my imagination, a colorful Spiderman did. In case anyone's wondering, no I am not Bengali. I guess it would be a crime to be a Bengali and not see Satyajit Ray's work till you are a grown a$$ woman!
I did not go back to his work till yesterday. I know, silly me, as a cinema aficionado, this is unforgivable. To quote the great Kurosawa "Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon." Having started watching his movies, I can understand this extravagant claim. So far I have seen the deliciously delightful movie 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne' and halfway through 'Charulata'. I can not get over the cinematography in Charulata, its exquisite. Naturally, since I am watching Ray's movies, I googled and wikied him. Now, hear this. The Great Spielberg, the embodiment of all things great about Hollywood, lifted his script from on of Ray's scripts 'The Alien' without giving a shred of credit, he even completely denied the accusation when faced with it.
In 1962 he published a short sci-fi story 'Banka Babunka Bandhu' (Friend of Banka Babu) in his family run magazine 'Sandesh'. Later he developed a film script out of this story which depicts the landing of a spaceship in a remote Bengal village and interaction of the friendly alien with magical powers with the village kids. This story which was different in the sense that till that point in time, aliens had been treated in Hollywood movies as vicious creatures coming to enslave our planet. Ray's script attracted attention of a Hollywood agent who took Ray to Hollywood where Columbia pictures got involved in making the movie. The agent, a Mr. Wilson of questionable character, copyrighted the script behind Ray's back in both their names, taking credit for Ray's work and pocketed the whole fee. Ray got to know about it later and got disillusioned with the whole Hollywood scene with the politics, backstabbing etc and finally decided to postpone the project and comeback to India. Columbia Pictures tried to revive the project a few times in the 70's , but nothing materialized. While all this was happening during the late sixties, a young Spielberg having graduated high school in 1965, had started working in Hollywood as a very young director. He was definitely aware of this script 'The Alien' which was floating in a cloud of uncertainty during the late 60's and 70's. Then he made 'E.T.' in 1982, with so many parallels (down to the scenes) with Ray's script for 'The Alien' that it bordered on plagiarism. Ray noticed it and so did few other notable film personalities in Hollywood who had read his script for 'Alien'. Ray called Spielberg out on this, which he fiercely denied, of course. It's notable that Columbia Pictures co-produced the movie.
When Rakesh Roshan's 'Krish' came out in 2006, I thought he copied 'E.T.', and I was naturally disappointed by the fact that yet again Bollywood ripped of Hollywood without giving credit. But as it turns out, Roshan's movie closely follows Ray's short story rather that Spielberg's 'E.T.'. I have attached here a picture of Ray's illustration of 'The Alien'. Does not E.T. look like its long lost cousin ?
So, the movie making business, as it is in love and war, is a (dirty) game where people of Spielberg's stature rip off the script of a master international movie maker as celebrated and famous as Sir Satyajit Ray and get away with it!