Life HISTORY Ismail Merchant
Ismail Merchant: Ismail Merchant is one half of the prolific Merchant-Ivory team which has been responsible for scores of literate, beautifully shot, languid, and sometimes erotic films since the mid-’60s. He is a director and producer of international repute.
Ismail Merchant was born on December 25, 1935, in Bombay, Maharashtra, as Ismail Noormohamed Abdul Reh. He graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay and earned his Master’s degree in Business Administration from New York University, USA.
In 1961 Ismail Merchant found the perfect collaborators, to put his skills to work in the creative arts, in the form of German/Indian novelist Ruth Prawar Jhabvala and California-born director James Ivory. Merchant and Ivory formed Merchant Ivory Productions. Merchant’s financial and marketing expertise as a producer greatly contributed to the team’s success and enhanced its international profile.
Their first film, “The Householder” (1963) was based on a novel by Prawer Jabvala. As their partnership developed, Merchant and Ivory moved away from Indian subjects and developed a reputation for intelligent, tasteful adaptations of modern literary classics, especially those of E.M. Forster and Henry James.
Among their successful efforts were Shakespeare Wallah (1965), Roseland (1977), The Europeans (1979), The Bostonians (1984), Heat and Dust (1983), A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), Howards End (1992), the Remains of the Day (1993), and Surviving Picasso (1996).
The due offered their take on French farce in 2003 with “Le Divorce”. Before his death they also were at work on “The Goddess,” a musical about the Hindu goddess Shakti, starting a singing, dancing Tina Turner and “The White Countess,” a period drama set in China.
Ismail Merchant has directed the short Mahatma and the Mad Boy (1973) and the features In Custody (1994) and La Proprietaire (1996). For television, he directed and wrote the documentary The Courtesans of Bombay (1983), produced the drama Noon Wine (1985), and worked on several other productions sans Ivory.
Merchant and Ivory, working together for 40 years made some 46 films and won six Oscars. The team finds its name in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema.
Ismail Merchant is also an Honorary Doctor of Arts at Bard’s College, New York. The merchant was also honored by the Mayor of New York and received the Marie des Paris for his outstanding contribution to cinema in France.
Merchant Ivory’s autobiographical book is entitled, My Passage from India: A Filmmaker’s Journey from Bombay to Hollywood and beyond. In 2002 Merchant was conferred the Padma Bhusan by the government of India.
Ismail Merchant also carved a niche in the culinary world. He has authored several books on cookery. Some of them are Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine; Ismail Merchant’s Florence; Ismail Merchant’s Passionate meals, Ismail Merchant’s Paris, Filming and Feasting in France. Besides, he has also authored several books on film making.
190W He died on May 25, 2005.