Mumbai, India: Veteran Bollywood writer and costume designer Shama Zaidi has claimed that Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg's science-fiction "ET the xtra-Terrestrial" was based on a script written by highly acclaimed Indian director, Satyajit Ray.
Zaidi worked with Ray in the 1977 National award-winning film "Shatranj Ke Khiladi" as a costume designer. She also assisted him in research and translation of the dialogues in the film.
Zaidi claimed that the "Pather Panchali" director had drawn a storyboard of a science fiction Hollywood film he wanted to make, which was ultimately used to make two movies.
"ET was his (Ray's) script. He showed me the script. That and the other film where another person comes from outer space in a small town (referring to 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'). These two films were inspired by his drawings. That ET character, he showed me the drawing in the 70s but he had done it in 60s," Zaidi told PTI.
Incidentally, Ray was supposed to direct a science-fiction film "The Alien" in the late 1960s which was eventually canceled. The script was loosely based on Bankubabur Bandhu, a Bengali science fiction story Ray had written in 1962.
The plot revolved around a spaceship that lands in a pond in rural Bengal. The alien establishes contact with a young village boy through dreams and also plays a number of pranks on the village community in the course of its short stay on planet Earth.
Zaidi said Ray's script about an affable alien befriending a human went from "studio to studio" in Hollywood but the film never got made.
"It was being considered by Hollywood so the script went from studio to studio with his illustrations but they never gave it to him. But they used his ideas... If you see his drawings and some of the famous films about aliens from space, they are exactly like what he drew many years before the films released," she claimed.
"ET", released in 1982, chronicled the story of Elliott (Thomas), a lonely boy who befriends an extraterrestrial, dubbed "ET", who is stranded on earth. He and his siblings help it return home while attempting to keep it hidden from their mother and the government.
Spielberg's another sci-fi 1977 release "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", followed the story of a man in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO).
Zaidi, 77, said after the incident, Ray never tried to make a science fiction film again.
"In India, even the small films he was making was difficult for him. Science fiction film needs a little bit more money to create all sorts of things."
"Bankubabur Bandhu" was eventually adapted into a television film by Ray's son Sandip.
Zaidi, who has mostly worked with award winning director like Shyam Benegal, Muzaffar Ali and MS Sathyu, feels young directors can attempt to make a compelling science-fiction movie if they let go off the tropes attached to a conventional Bollywood film.
"The younger filmmakers can do it. But if you have to have a love interest, a song, then it's difficult to make a science fiction," she said.
Zaidi has worked in acclaimed films like "Garam Hawa", "Umrao Jaan" and "Manthan" in various departments ranging from art direction to screenplay writing.
She believes, when it comes to making off-beat cinema, many film school students, including the ones studying in FTII, are inclined to make documentaries.
"There are a lot of students who are interested in making documentaries. I have lectured in FTII, and the faculty there are more towards fictional cinema... There are students who are very keen to make documentaries. Today one can make a name even as a documentary filmmaker, you don't have to have actors," she said.