Ismael Merchant dies aged 68
by Annika Pham
The Indian-born producer and long-time collaborator to James Ivory died yesterday afternoon May 25 in a London hospital.
Merchant was born in Bombay in 1936 and moved to New York to study Business administration but he soon turned to filmmaking and his first short feature film The Creation of Woman was selected in competition in Cannes 1961. The same year, he met the British filmmaker James Ivory. The pair rapidly teamed up with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala to set up Merchant Ivory Productions, a company that was soon to become synonymous with elegant and meticulous period dramas and film adaptations of classic novels such as EM Forster’s A Room With a View and Howard’s End that won three Oscars each. In total, Merchant Ivory Productions (MIP) made almost 50 films and the partnerhsip between Ivory and Merchant was to enter the Guinness Book of Records in 2001 as the longest collaboration in independent cinema.
Merchant’s latest production was James Ivory’s The White Countess based on a script by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains fo the Day). The film starring Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave will open later this year.
In the mid 90s until early 2000, MIP made several films with French co-producers including three productions with the regretted Humbert Balsan: Jefferson in Paris (1995) and Surviving Picasso (1996), both directed by James Ivory, and The Prioprietor one of their four films directed by Ismael Merchant (1996). The francophile producer/director was eventually made Commandeur de l’ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture for his outstanding contribution to cinema.
Apart from his love for film, Merchant was famous for his love for food and cooking. When he wasn’t cooking Indian meals for his cast and crew, he would be writing cookery books, such as ‘Ismael Merchant’s Paris: filming and feasting in France’, reuniting 40 of his personal recipes. Merchant leaves behind him wonderful smells of curry, English roses and dust and his unforgettable Room with a View over Tuscan hills.
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