A tiny handful of posts on social media reminded me yesterday that it was Satyajit Ray’s birthday. Satyajit Ray, for those that don’t know, was a gifted creative with a fine eye for the technical. He revived and ran the iconic Bengali children’s magazine Sandesh, wrote three very successful series of fiction for young-adults, created slightly unearthly music, sketched and painted professionally, and of course, taught himself film-making and made some wonderful films in Bengali.

In his communique and interactions, Ray was known for his dry – but gracious – wit. It sounds a bit of an oxymoron, for surely dry wit relies on irony and slight contempt, but the instance below will illustrate my assertion:

Ray’s Alien with Columbia Pictures (later flicked by Spielberg as E.T.) was grounded by legal troubles, after Ray’s go-between, Mike Wilson, sneaked his own name in as the co-scriptwriter. The grounding was further facilitated by Peter Sellers opting out, saying he wanted ‘a bigger role’. [A fuller version of events is available here.]

This is the parting letter Ray wrote Sellers, before formally washing his hands of the project. Notice the humour and lack of rancour, despite having lost his biggest-ever project.

Dear Peter,
If you had wanted a bigger part,
Why, you should have told me right at the start!
By disclosing it at this juncture
You have surely punctured
The Alien balloon.
Which, I daresay,
Will now be grounded soon
Causing a great deal of dismay
To Satyajit Ray.



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