Ismail Merchant is supposed to be a producer of beguiling films, but he transformed himself into a writer. The lines he writes would be the envy of any novelist: he is incapable of writing one that is dull, slack or lifeless. Ismail Merchant is best known as one of the world`s leading producers of Independent Films. He has produced over 40 years and has won six Oscars.
Early Life of Ismail Merchant
Ismail Merchant, Indian-born film producer was born on 25th December 1936 in Mumbai
to Hazra Memon and Noormohamed Haji Abdul Rehman. He studied at St. Xavier`s College, Mumbai. When he was 22, he travelled to the United States to study at New York University, where he earned an M.B.A. Born in Mumbai; Ismail Merchant has lived and worked for most of his life in the West.
Career of Ismail Merchant
Merchant`s first film "The Creation of Woman" was a theatrical short, which was nominated in 1961 for an Academy Award and was an official entry from the United States in the Cannes Film Festival that same year.
In 1961 `Merchant Ivory Productions` the film production company with James Ivory was created by Ismail Merchant to make English-language theatrical features in India for the international market. Ivory has been the life partner of Ismail Merchant. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
was the screenwriter for most of their productions. They made close to 40 films together.
"The Householder" was Merchant and Ivory`s first film and the first Indian film to be distributed worldwide by a major American company, Columbia Pictures. "The Householder" is a comedy that revolves around Prem (Shashi Kapoor
), a young teacher at a boys` college.
In addition to producing, Merchant has directed a number of films and two television features. He directed a short feature named "Mahatma and the Mad Boy" for television and a full-length television feature "The Courtesans of Bombay". It was made for Britain`s Channel Four. It was followed by more Indian features, including "Shakespeare Wallah" (1965), "The Guru" (1969), and "Bombay
Talkie" (1970). Merchant made his own directorial debut with "In Custody" based on a novel by Anita Desai
in 1993. It was filmed in Bhopal
, India, and went on to win National Awards from the Government of India
for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Costume and Best Production Design.
Merchant`s third feature film as Director, "Cotton Mary", was set in Kerala
, India. The film tells the tale of an Anglo-Indian nurse in search of her identity in Post-Colonial India. The Fortieth Anniversary of Merchant`s career in film production was marked by the American release of "The Golden Bowl" in April 2001. "The Mystic Masseur", based on the novel by V.S. Naipaul
, was Merchant`s last work as Director was released in the spring of 2002 and was described by the New York Times as "a subtle, humorous, illuminating study of politics, power and social mobility."
For 40 years, Merchant Ivory Productions has endured as one of the most productive collaborations in cinema, bringing forth such films as "The Europeans", "Quartet", "Heat and Dust", "A Room With a View", "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge", "Howards End", "The Remains of the Day", "Jefferson in Paris" and "Surviving Picasso".
Awards Won by Ismail Merchant
Merchant has won in the world of film; he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2002. He is also an Honorary Doctor of Arts at Bard`s College, New York, Wesleyan College and the University of Illinois. He has been honoured by the Mayor of New York and the Maire de Paris, and received the title of "Commandeur de l`Ordre des Arts et des Letters" from the Ministry of Culture in France for his outstanding contribution to cinema.
Ismail Merchant wrote many books on cooking. A number of books on cuisine including "Ismail Merchant`s Indian Cuisine", "Ismail Merchant`s Florence", "Ismail Merchant`s Passionate Meals" and "Ismail Merchant`s Paris: Filming and Feasting in France". In addition, he authored a book about the making of the film "The Deceivers" in 1988 and another about the making of "The Proprietor" called Once Upon a Time . . . The Proprietor. His most recent book is entitled, "My Passage from India: A Filmmaker`s Journey from Bombay to Hollywood and beyond".
He passed away on 25th May 2005 at the age of 68 and was unmarried. He was buried in the Bada Kabrestan in Marine Lines, Mumbai, on 28 May 2005, in keeping with his wish to be laid to rest with his ancestors.