India Today - - LEISURE - —De­vang­shu Datta

Satya­jit Ray was a science fic­tion afi­cionado long be­fore he be­came a movie di­rec­tor. He read ex­ten­sively across the genre, wrote SF and wrote about SF, and thought deeply about the ways in which it could be trans­lated onto screen and stage. He cre­ated one of the most iconic char­ac­ters of In­dian SF in Pro­fes­sor Shonku and spent sev­eral years try­ing to get a big-bud­get SF film project off the ground.

In the late 1960s, the script and sto­ry­board of that pu­ta­tive film, com­plete

with mul­ti­ple con­cept sketches, did the rounds in Hol­ly­wood. It had a work­ing ti­tle, The Alien. Columbia al­most backed it and put some money into it. Ray him­self vis­ited Paris and Los An­ge­les try­ing to drum up sup­port for the project. Peter Sell­ers wanted to work in it; Mar­lon Brando and Steve McQueen ex­pressed an in­ter­est. Writer Arthur C. Clarke, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey be­came an iconic film in the hands of di­rec­tor Stan­ley Kubrick in 1968, agreed to jointly write a novel based on the script. The driv­ing force be­hind the project was Mike Wil­son, Clarke’s for­mer part­ner and Sri Lanka- based film im­pre­sario. Wil­son was one of the rea­sons the project went bel­lyup.

Some 10-15 years later, when Steven Spiel­berg’s Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind and then ET hit the screen, Ray was sur­prised to dis­cover mul­ti­ple sim­i­lar­i­ties in plot and vis­ual con­cep­tions. He briefly con­sid­ered su­ing Spiel­berg for pla­gia­rism and dis­cussed that with Clarke be­fore aban­don­ing the idea.

This tragic saga forms the core of this beau­ti­fully pro­duced book. Com­piled by The So­ci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Satya­jit Ray Archives, it in­cludes Ray’s script and sto­ry­board, his es­says on SF and three of his SF short sto­ries. It also con­tains fac­sim­i­les of Ray’s cor­re­spon­dence with Sell­ers, Clarke, au­thor-screen­writer Ray Brad­bury, stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives, et al, on the sub­ject.

As a bonus, it has a short story by his fa­ther, Suku­mar Ray, fea­tur­ing the awe­some Becharathe­rium and other ex­otic crea­tures.

The es­says might seem dated to a modern SF buff, since most of the ma­te­rial is culled from the pe­riod be­tween 1965-1990. So, Ray pays ho­mage to the writ­ers of the Golden Age when the ABC of SF equalled Asi­mov, Brad­bury and Clarke, rather than the modern pan­theon of At­wood, Banks and Card. Ray’s mus­ings on SF in the movies starts with Fritz Lang’s Me­trop­o­lis and stops, un­der­stand­ably enough, with a throw­away ref­er­ence to the orig­i­nal Bladerun­ner (1982). How­ever, the book presents some fas­ci­nat­ing slices of film his­tory and of­fers a glimpse into the well­springs of Ray’s mul­ti­pronged tal­ent.

TRA­VAILS WITH THE ALIEN Satya­jit Ray, HARPERCOLL­INS 224 pages; `699

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