BOOK EXCERPT

We may never watch it but a new book lets us read the script of Satyajit Ray’s unmade sci-fi film

In 1967, Satyajit Ray wrote the script for ‘Alien’, a film that was to be produced by Columbia Pictures in Hollywood. But the ill-fated movie was never made.

Scene 35. Exterior. Night. Lotus pond.

A shot of the exterior of the spaceship shows its top opening like a lid.

Through the opening the Alien comes out. The Alien is a cross between a gnome and a famished refugee child. Large head, spindly limbs, a lean torso. Is he male, female or neuter? We don’t know. What his form basically conveys is a kind of ethereal innocence, and it is difficult to associate either great power or great evil with him. And yet a feeling of eeriness is there because of the resemblance to a sickly human child. The Alien stands poised on the top of the spaceship for a few seconds, then takes a leap and lands gently, almost weightlessly, on a lotus leaf.

He looks down on the surface of the water, gets down on his knees, touches the water with his finger. Then he examines the water very closely. Blue lights appear in the sockets of his eyes, enabling the water to be observed microscopically.

Germs, amoeba and other minute forms of life are revealed to the Alien. We can even hear the sound they make while they swim.

Scene 37. Exterior. Night. Lotus pond.

Now the lights in his eyes dim, and the Alien stands up. There is a certain tension about him, as if he had to be watchful of traps. Then suddenly, in a series of fantastically quick, short steps over the lotus leaves, the Alien reaches the shore of the pond. He looks down at the grass, examines a blade, and is off hopping into the bamboo forest.

Scene 38. Exterior. Night. Bamboo grove.

There the Alien sees a small plant. He passes his hand over it, and flowers come out. A thin soft high-pitched laugh shows the Alien is pleased. He plucks a flower, puts it into his mouth, and hops on all fours to an anthill. He pokes the anthill with his finger and causes agitated ants to swarm out of their holes. The Alien observes the ants with his microscopic vision, and attunes his ears to make audible the sounds made by the insects.

Looking up, the Alien laughs to see a swarm of fireflies dancing around a mango tree. He leaps up, catches hold of a mango branch and keeps swinging, while the fireflies dance around him.

Scene 39. Exterior. Night. Haba’s shack.

Poised in mid-air, the Alien sees Haba’s shack. He goes flitting through the air to reach the door of the shack to see Haba huddled in sleep on a mat.

The Alien’s eyelights now turn a glowing red which enables him to see Haba’s respiratory system and listen to his regular heartbeats. The red in the Alien’s eyes now turns violet and he looks into Haba’s brain and sinks into his subconscious.

Scene 40. Haba’s dreamland.

Haba is dreaming, and the Alien becomes part of his dream. We see Haba and the Alien playing hide-and-seek in a strange black-and-white world of geometrical forms.

Scene 41. Exterior. Night. Haba’s shack.

The light in the Alien’s eyes now dim, and with another high-pitched laugh, he is gone from the bamboo forest.

Scene 42. Exterior. Night. Paddy field.

The Alien now comes to the paddy field and sees the withering crop. He examines a paddy plant. His eyes turn yellow, and he dances about in the field while all the paddy around him ripens and stands aspiring in the moonlight. Standing on the tip of a paddy plant, the Alien looks up at the sky.

Scene 43. Exterior. Night. Sky.

The moon fascinates him. He turns on his green eyelights and brings the moon close for inspection.

Scene 44.

Then the Alien pushes the moon back in place, jumps off the paddy, and its back to the spaceship.

Fade out.

Scene 45. Exterior. Day. Govinda’s hut.

Govinda, the peasant, comes out of his hut, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He pats his cattle, yawns again, and ambles towards his eld.

Scene 46. Exterior. Day. Paddy field.

The sight that meets his eyes makes his mouth fall open. A slow-witted man, Govinda can only scratch his head, walk over to examine the crop, walk back again, shake his head and scratch it again.

In a while, the news begins to spread and the whole village gathers at the field to see the strange sight.

Bhattacharji, the priest declares, “This is indeed a miracle. All praise to Mother Annapurna.”

(Some people make obeisance to the paddy.)

Mr Bose, shrewder than the others, says, “You know, we shouldn’t discount the possibility of that American having done something with some new fertiliser or other...”

(Bose’s suggestion meets with scant approval. Mohan is among those present. He looks tense, having smelled a story. He takes the still-bemused Govinda aside and says)

“How do you feel about this strange occurrence, Govinda?”

“How do I feel?” Govinda shakes his head. “I ask you, mister, how you would feel if you had a one-year-old child – a sickly child, to be sure – but whom you gave all your love and care, and suddenly one morning you found him a full grown man. How would you feel then, mister?”

(Mohan takes rapid notes in his pad, but is distracted by Haba’s shouting.)

“Come and see the new temple, the new temple!”

“What new temple?” someone asks.

“The new temple in the lotus pond,” says Haba. “And I found this mango too.” (Haba holds up a luscious green mango for everyone to see.)

“Mango in October?” Everybody is astounded.

(Haba has already started running in the direction of the lotus pond, and the crowd turns to follow Haba.)

Scene 47. Interior. Day. Cabin of speceship.

A babble of human voices invades the cabin and makes strange new sound patterns on the screen. The Alien looks through the crystalline viewport and watches the crowd arriving.

Scene 48. Exterior. Day. Lotus pond.

Haba points triumphantly to the shining top of the spaceship and says, “There it is.”

(All eyes go to the spaceship.)

Now Haba says, “My friend is in that temple, and he is the one who has made all the fruits and the flowers to grow.”

(He is promptly knuckled on the head for saying so.)

“My friend is in there, indeed!” growls Bhattacharji, aiming another clout at the boy. “Don’t you start showing off again, my lad, this is a religious matter and if you talk like that you’ll get the thrashing of your life!”

But Mohan has been watching Haba. He draws the boy aside and says: “What friend have you got in there, Haba?”

“It’s a little boy like me,” says HABA, a trifle deflated. “He came down from the stars.”

“I see. And how did you know that?”

“He told me,” says Haba. “He was in my dream last night.”

“Oh, I see. Very good,” says Mohan, both playing up to him and dismissing him at the same time.

“And he’s healed my wound too,” says Haba, rubbing his head.

(But Mohan’s attention has strayed to the spaceship, and he keeps looking at it with a puzzled expression. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, he picks up a stone and throws it at the spaceship. It hits the object and makes a metallic sound. The elders in the crowd turn menacingly at Mohan.)

“That was a very foolish thing to do, young man,” says Bose, hissing out each syllable.

(Mohan manages to keep his composure and says)

“I was only trying to see if it was metal. It could have been a stage-prop, you know, made of pith or wood or something.”

(Others join Bose now in accusing Mohan of having risked sacrilege, and all that Mohan can do is to withdraw into the shade of a tree, and marvel at the rapidity with which the idea of the temple, and the attribution of the miracle to the temple, gains ground.)

Scene 49. Interior. Day. Cabin of spaceship.

Inside the capsule, the Alien has been watching everything in close-up with his super vision. His eyes dim, and he turns away from the window. Then he starts to hop about the cabin in what is obviously a state of great excitement.

Excerpted with permission from Travails With The Alien: The Film That Was Never Made And Other Adventures With Science Fiction, Satyajit Ray, edited by Sandip Ray, Harper Collins India.

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