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Updated December 19th, 2023 at 16:22 IST

When Satyajit Ray was advised to take legal action against Steven Spielberg for THIS film

Satyajit Ray, who has been publicly admired by leading Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson, also received an honorary Oscar in 1992.

Satyajit Ray
Satyajit Ray | Image:Pinterest
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Satyajit Ray is one of the rare and earliest Indian filmmakers who made his presence felt on a global level. At a time when Hindi Cinema was largely famous (and infamous) for its escapist fare and song-and-dance spectacles, Ray became a globally acclaimed filmmaker with movies like Pather Panchali, Mahanagar and Devi.

However, there was also an instance where Ray was allegedly plagiarised by one of the greatest filmmakers of 20th century for an iconic film. The film was the 1982 film E.T., and the director was none other than Steven Spielberg. 

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A still from Spielberg's film E.T. | Image: IMDb

When Satyajit Ray received a phone call after Spielberg’s E.T. release

Way back in the 60s, much before Spielberg had even begun making films in Hollywood, Satyajit Ray had written a story about a small boy in Bengal whose life changes when he is visited by an alien. While Ray tried to get this script made in Hollywood way back in late 60s, the project never materialised. 

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However, after E.T. released in 1982, Satyajit Ray received a phone call from legendary Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who was familiar with not just Ray’s films but also his literary work as a short story author. On the phone call, Clarke informed Ray that he observed many similarities between Spielberg’s film and the script Ray had written around the same subject, tentatively titled The Alien.

Book cover of the book written about Ray's unfinished project around The Alien script | Image: Pinterest

E.T. wouldn’t be possible without my script, Ray said in 1983

As Spielberg’s E.T. found great success at the box office and gradually began to earn a cult status of sorts, Ray was increasingly advised by his friends and well-wishers to sue Spielberg for plagiarism. And even though Ray never took any legal action, he addressed the subject on many occasions. During a media interview in 1983, Ray stated, “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.”

Meanwhile, Spielberg denies the allegations on many occasions, stating that there was no way for him to have any access to Ray’s script because Spielberg was in college when The Alien script was being circulated in Hollywood. 

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However, despite this controversy, Ray remained one of the most respected world cinema figures, with many filmmakers like Martin Scorsse, Wes Anderson publicly acknowledging his influence on many occasions. In 1992, Satyajit Ray was awarded with an honorary Oscar. A few months later, the filmmaker unfortunately succumbed to illness.

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Published December 18th, 2023 at 18:53 IST

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