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Long before they became known for their scrupulously detailed period pieces, the filmmaking team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory worked together on a series of lesser known productions. Though the producer-director pair did not collaborate on the dance film The Creation of Woman (1961), they did meet soon after it screened at that year's Cannes Film Festival.
The Creation of Woman is a fourteen minute short film which acts out the story of creation in traditional Indian dance.
Much like the Christian story of Adam and Eve, in The Creation of Woman, narrator Saeed Jaffrey describes first the Hindu god Brahma's creation of the world. The filmmakers managed to secure the famed Indian dancer Chowdhury for the production. During The Creation of Woman the sensuous, magnetic Indian dance star performs the "Dance of Shiva." In 1955 Chowdhury moved to New York to found the Bhaskar Dances of India company and would go on to star as the hippie cult leader Horace Bones in the cult film I Drink Your Blood (1970).
As Brahma (Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury) dances, lights on a soundstage illuminate elaborately painted backdrops of trees, peacocks and a bountiful garden on the surrounding walls. Brahma introduces his creation man (Dinu) into that world, connecting him with strings that link God and creation like puppetmaster and puppet. When Brahma introduces woman (Anjali Devi), the man is at first delighted. But seeing that she has a defiant will of her own, he attempts to return the willful creature to God. Dramatic red lighting conveys the man's agitated emotions as he returns Brahma's "creature" to him. But with time the man begins to miss the "beautiful and soft" woman and so God grants her return, while also cutting the strings that bind the creations to their creator.
The entire story of The Creation of Woman is told through Jaffrey's narration and the elaborate, expressive dances performed by the trio of dancers who give the story its distinctive flair.
Produced by Ismail Merchant while he was working at the McCann Erickson advertising agency, the film was made for the low sum of $9,000. That money was secured from Merchant's friend and the film's director Charles F. Schwep. Upon the film's completion, Merchant convinced a theater owner to place The Creation of Woman on a bill with one of Ingrid Bergman's films.
The Creation of Woman was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for a 1961 Academy Award for Best Short Subject. It was at that year's Cannes Film Festival that Merchant met New York director James Ivory for the first time (Ivory had just directed his debut film The Sword and the Flute ). The two would go on to become both professional collaborators and lifelong companions, united in their desire to make English-language films in India for sale to the international market. Their first film together was The Householder (1963), which was also the first film made in India to be distributed worldwide.
A filmmaking team since their first breakout feature about an Indian theatrical touring company, Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), Merchant-Ivory productions have united Indian born producer Ismail Merchant (who passed away in 2005), German-born, British-educated Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and American director James Ivory, in productions set around the globe and in remarkably different time periods, including A Room with a View (1985), Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) and Howards End. 1992 In addition to their film productions, the Merchant Ivory Foundation has restored the work of Indian master Satyajit Ray and offered financial support to a number of filmmakers, artists and novelists. In all the collaborators have won six Academy Awards for their work together.
Producer: Charles F. Schwep
Director: Charles F. Schwep
Screenplay: Charles F. Schwep (uncredited)
Cinematography: Wheaton Galentine
Film Editing: Jan Wing Lum
Cast: Bhaskar (Dancers), Dinu (Dancers), Anjali Devi (Dancers), Saeed Jaffrey (Narrator).
by Felicia Feaster