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50 Years of Merchant Ivory - Spotlight
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The Delhi Way

Written, photographed, directed and produced by James Ivory, The Delhi Way (1964) was the last solo film effort for the director prior to meeting Ismail Merchant, who became his producer, collaborator and life partner. Although filming on the documentary began before the making of The Householder (1963), the first Merchant Ivory feature film, the completed 50-minute portrait of Delhi wasn't released until the following year.

A visually seductive exploration of the ancient city, The Delhi Way juxtaposes the past and the present through skillful editing and the voice over narration by British actor Leo Genn; he provides a fascinating historic overview of the city with a particular emphasis on the period of the Raj, a time when India was under British colonial rule from 1858 through 1947. At the time the documentary was made, Delhi was a city of startling contrasts with modern, high rise skyscrapers existing side by side with the crumbling palaces of another century. We glimpse office workers dressed in white suits riding to work on their bicycles through a palatial public park which was once the grounds of the royal palace. We see the squalid living conditions of the city's poor as well as the opulence and grandeur of the wealthy upper class cavorting at a private club. Both the realities of the city (the bustling markets, street vendors, congested traffic, religious ceremonies) and fantasy projections of it, represented by the many Bollywood film posters adorning billboards above the streets, exist together in this sensual viewing experience.

In addition to Ivory's cinematic documentation of the place, The Delhi Way is also enhanced through the use of archival footage, vintage photographs, paintings and art work that depict the past. In his essay on the film in The Films of Merchant Ivory, author Robert Emmet Long wrote, "Almost every frame reveals contradictions and contrasts, so that there is almost too much to Delhi to readily assimilate. Ivory seems to ask in the film how identity is achieved in this city that reflects differences like a prism and is so full of the sense of time."

Initially, The Delhi Way began as a commissioned film for the Asia Society in New York City along with a second documentary on Afghanistan. Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III, a patron of the Asia Society, provided a $20,000 advance for production costs and Ivory traveled to Delhi in October 1959 to begin filming which lasted through May 1960. "I would just gather up anything that looked interesting," Ivory said (in The Wandering Company: 21 Years of Merchant Ivory Films by John Pym)."I shot in Agra which in itself has nothing to do with Delhi. The Mogul buildings in Agra, however, do have something to do with the Mogul buildings in Delhi." After traveling to Southern India to shoot a sequence on Indian dancers, Ivory visited Afghanistan as research for that planned documentary (which never materialized). "When I returned [to India] the monsoon was on," recalled Ivory. "Everything had changed, everything was green and kind of frothy looking. By this time I had very much fallen in love with India and had many Indian friends." By the time Ivory returned to New York, he had already spent his grant money from the Asia Society and The Delhi Way still needed completion funds. Luckily, Ivory met Ismail Merchant a few months after he was back in New York; they struck up a friendship and partnership and after releasing their first film together, The Householder, Ivory was able to complete The Delhi Way.

Producer: James Ivory
Director: James Ivory
Screenplay: James Ivory
Cinematography: James Ivory
Music: Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Shantaprasad
Film Editing: James Ivory
Cast: Leo Genn (Narrated by)
C-50m.

by Jeff Stafford

SOURCES:
The Films of Merchant Ivory by by Robert Emmet Long (Abrams)
The Wandering Company: 21 Years of Merchant Ivory Films by John Pym (BFI)

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