Many consider Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s cult classic Taxi Driver to be one of the most amazing onscreen characters of all time and I was blown away to find out that Taxi Driver has a very desi connection. The movie might have been influenced by director Satyajit Ray’s Abhijaan!
Scorsese for his part has always waxed lyrical about Ray. He told TOI: ‘My first view of Satyajit Ray was at the Cannes Film Festival, somewhere in the mid-70s. I had grown up watching his classics, the Apu trilogy, Devi, Mahanagar and Charulata. Each appeared a classic unparalleled to me. In sheer terms of content and cinematic excellence, I rank Ray amongst the top ten directors of the last century.’
The plot of Abhijan is quite similar to Taxi Driver. A Rajput (a warrior instead of a Vietnam veteran) reduced to the lowly task of a taxi driver; he vents his frustration by hitting the bottle and even falls in love with a prostitute who he then looks to save from the clutches of her associates.
Legend has it that Taxi Driver’s not the only Hollywood movie to be inspired by Ray’s works. Scorsese even admitted that E.T. was largely inspired by Ray’s The Alien which was based on a short-story Ray had written for Sandesh, a Bengali magazine. He said: ‘In the late 60s, there was a big probability of Ray coming down to Hollywood to shoot The Alien based on his own short story which appeared in the then popular Bengali magazine, Sandesh. The film was to be produced by 20th Century Fox and Hollywood was waiting to embrace Ray with open arms. Alas! Due to some dirty politics played by unknown quarters, Ray’s Hollywood dream had to be shelved. I have no qualms in admitting that Spielberg’s E.T. was influenced by Ray’s Alien. Even Sir Richard Attenborough pointed this out to me.’
The Alien was eventually cancelled but it would be adapted into a television film by Satyajit’s son Sandip Ray. Meanwhile, it’s sad to note that a country whose director influenced such stalwarts continues to produce unadulterated crap disguised as entertainment!