Ismail Merchant


Producer

About

Also Known As
Ismail Noormohamed Abdul Rehman
Birth Place
India
Born
December 25, 1936
Died
May 25, 2005

Biography

An epicurean who fosters a family atmosphere on his sets, often cooking sumptuous meals for cast and crew, Bombay-born producer Ismail Merchant is one half of the prolific "Merchant-Ivory" team, responsible for an oeuvre of handsome and thoughtful independent films reflecting an eye for the exotic and the beautiful and an ear for the carefully wrought line of dialogue. Along with Oregon-...

Family & Companions

Parmesh Merchant
Wife

Bibliography

"Ismail Merchant's Paris: Filming and Feasting in France"
Ismail Merchant, Harry N. Abrams Inc. (1999)
"Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals: The New Indian Cuisine for Fearless Cooks and Adventurous Eaters"
Ismail Merchant, Hyperion (1994)
"Ismail Merchant's Florence: Filming and Feasting in Tuscany"
Ismail Merchant, Harry N. Abrams Inc. (1993)
"Ismail Merchant's Vegetarian Cuisine"
Ismail Merchant (1991)

Notes

"A producer has to have many hats on his head. You're a financial wizard, a great promoter, you foster a feeling of camaraderie, you win the confidence of those working with you. They all have to believe in the producer. The producer is the heart." --Ismail Merchant to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, March 18, 1991

"[Ismail Merchant] keeps everything in place. He makes things happen. It all works because he is there and it wouldn't work otherwise. I have always thought that the three of us are a bit like the United States Government. I've said this before and I don't mind saying it again. I'm the President. Ismail is the Congress and Ruth is the Supreme Court. That's how we operate. That's how we get our business done and I think that defines our functions." --James Ivory quoted in an October 4, 1995 press release issued when he received the D W Griffith Award

Biography

An epicurean who fosters a family atmosphere on his sets, often cooking sumptuous meals for cast and crew, Bombay-born producer Ismail Merchant is one half of the prolific "Merchant-Ivory" team, responsible for an oeuvre of handsome and thoughtful independent films reflecting an eye for the exotic and the beautiful and an ear for the carefully wrought line of dialogue. Along with Oregon-raised director James Ivory and the German-raised screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (a Polish Jew educated in Britain and married to an Indian), he is actually part of a triumvirate, perhaps best described by the Hindi word 'sangam' meaning "meeting of three rivers," in this case Asia, Europe and North America. Merchant was introduced to Ivory in 1961 when the producer was 24 and the director was 32. The pair shared a common collaborator, Saeed Jaffrey, who had narrated both Merchant's Oscar-nominated 1960 short "The Creation of Woman" and Ivory's short film "The Sword and the Flute" (1961). Meeting at a screening for the latter, the two eventually formed Merchant-Ivory Productions (MIP) to make English-language features in India for the international market. Their first film, "The Householder" (1963) was adapted by Jhabvala from her novel.

Merchant's financial and marketing expertise as a producer greatly contributed to the team's success and enhanced their international profile. "The Householder" became the first Indian movie to be distributed worldwide by a major American company, in this case Columbia Pictures, and they followed with "Shakespeare Wallah" (1965), about a troupe of British actors traveling through India, which earned raves from the CAHIERS DU CINEMA critic at its debut at the Berlin Film Festival and further enhanced their reputations. "The Guru" (1969) marked their first USA-financed film, and the 70s saw Merchant-Ivory move away from Indian subjects to make pictures like "The Wild Party" (1975), an uneven evocation of 20s Hollywood with a nod to the 'Fatty' Arbuckle scandal, and "Roseland" (1977), inspired by the famous NYC dance hall. "The Europeans" (1979), based on a Henry James novel, began their love affair with tasteful adaptations of literary classics, on which their reputation rests. Merchant-Ivory brings to mind James ("The Bostonians" 1984) but more particularly E.M. Forster, whose novels provided the raw material for two Oscar-nominated Best Pictures ("A Room With a View" 1986, "Howards End" 1992) and the critically-praised "Maurice" (1987).

On the heels of the enthusiasm shown the Forster adaptations, Merchant-Ivory brought forth the immaculate historic reconstruction "The Remains of the Day" (1993), based on the novel by Anglo-Asian writer Kazuo Ishiguro, reteaming "Howards End" stars Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins in a high-rent battle of the sexes, but despite its numerous Oscar nominations, some critics disparaged it as a pretty but staid simplification of the novel. Their signature work has all featured the low-key Ivory at the helm, the colorful Merchant behind the scenes and resident screenwriter Jhabvala, a two-time Oscar-winner ("A Room With a View," Howards End") who had received screenplay credit on 20 Merchant Ivory projects through 1998. However, not everything they touched turned to gold as the commercial failures of the turgid "Jefferson in Paris" (1995) and the much better "Surviving Picasso" (1996) attest. Their "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" (1998), based on the autobiographical novel by novelist James Jones' daughter Kaylie, returned to the trio's favorite theme of displacement, and represented an artistic triumph, if not a success on the magnitude of their greatest hits.

In addition to his Oscar-nominated "The Creation of Woman," Merchant directed the short "Mahatma and the Mad Boy" (1973) and the documentary "The Courtesans of Bombay" (1983), which he also scripted with Ivory and Jhabvala. He made his feature debut with "In Custody" (1994), an engaging, rueful comedy lamenting the passing of Urdu, a Northern Indian language cherished by poets and writers, that won over most reviewers. "The Proprietor" (1996), on the other hand, was a confused mess that represented a step backwards artistically for Merchant the director. Undaunted, he helmed the fine character drama "Cotton Mary" (2000), which he planned to follow with an adaptation of the V.S. Naipul book "The Mystic Masseur," all the while continuing to serve as producer for traditional Merchant-Ivory fare like a proposed feature of "The Golden Bowl" (based on a novel by henry James) and "The White Countess," a script by Ishiguro. Next for Merchant and his regular collaborators Ivory and Jhabvala was a sophisticated, unpretentious adaptation of Diane Johnson's bestselling novel "Le Divorce" (2003), a relaxed, sophisticated and contemporary tale of two American sisters in Paris: one a pregnant expatriated poetess (Naomi Watts) suddenly abandoned by her philandering French husband; the other a fresh, naive young woman (Kate Hudson) caught up in a seemingly cosmopolitan affair with a roguish, married and much older French diplomat.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Mystic Masseur (2001)
Director
Cotton Mary (1999)
Director
The Proprietor (1996)
Director
Lumiere Et Compagnie (1996)
Director
In Custody (1994)
Director
Courtesans of Bombay (1986)
Director
Mahatma and the Mad Boy (1974)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Song of the Little Road (2003)
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
The Guru (1969)
Master of ceremonies

Writer (Feature Film)

The Proprietor (1996)
Story By
The Proprietor (1996)
From Story
Courtesans of Bombay (1986)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

The White Countess (2005)
Producer
Heights (2004)
Producer
Merci Docteur Rey (2003)
Executive Producer
The Golden Bowl (2001)
Producer
A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998)
Producer
Side Streets (1997)
Executive Producer
Surviving Picasso (1996)
Producer
Feast of July (1995)
Executive Producer
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Producer
The Remains Of The Day (1993)
Producer
Howard's End (1992)
Producer
The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe (1991)
Producer
Mr. And Mrs. Bridge (1990)
Producer
Slaves of New York (1989)
Producer
The Deceivers (1988)
Producer
The Perfect Murder (1988)
Executive Producer
Sweet Lorraine (1987)
Executive Producer
Maurice (1987)
Producer
My Little Girl (1986)
Executive Producer
Courtesans of Bombay (1986)
Producer
A Room With a View (1986)
Producer
The Bostonians (1984)
Producer
Heat and Dust (1983)
Producer
Quartet (1981)
Producer
Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980)
Producer
Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures (1979)
Producer
The Europeans (1979)
Producer
Roseland (1977)
Executive Producer
Autobiography of a Princess (1975)
Executive Producer
The Wild Party (1975)
Producer
Mahatma and the Mad Boy (1974)
Producer
Savages (1972)
Producer
Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilization (1972)
Producer
Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls (1972)
Producer
Bombay Talkie (1970)
Producer
The Guru (1969)
Producer
Shakespeare Wallah (1966)
Producer
The Householder (1963)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

The Guru (1969)
Company

Producer (Special)

Noon Wine (1985)
Executive Producer

Producer (Short)

Sweet Sounds (1976)
Producer
The Creation of Woman (1960)
Producer

Life Events

1946

First job in film, a walk-on part in a Bombay film, age nine (date approximate)

1958

Immigrated to the USA

1960

Directed and co-produced short film "The Creation of Woman", based on an Indian myth; received Oscar nomination as Best Live-Action Short Subject; its narrator, Saeed Jaffrey (who would appear in four Merchant-Ivory films) had also narrated James Ivory's second short film, "The Sword and the Flute", about Indian art

1961

Met Ivory at screening for "The Sword and the Flute"; formed Merchant-Ivory Productions (MIP)

1963

First MIP production, "The Householder"; also marked first collaboration with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who adapted her novel

1964

First non-Indian (British) film, "The Delhi Way"

1965

Had success with "Shakespeare Wallah", about a troupe of actors travelling throughout India

1969

First US-financed film, "The Guru"; portrayed Emcee

1972

MIP produced the documentary "Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilization" (BBC-TV)

1973

Directed the short "Mahatma and the Mad Boy"; co-produced with Ivory

1979

First feature adaptation of a Henry James novel, "The Europeans"

1983

Returned to India as a subject for feature film, "Heat and Dust", adapted by Jhabvala from her novel

1983

Collaborated on the screenplay (with Ivory and Jhabvala) and directed the documentary "Courtesans of Bombay"

1984

Second James adaptation, "The Bostonians"; first film with actor Christopher Reeve; also starred Vanessa Redgrave

1986

First feature without Ivory, executive produced "My Little Girl" under the Merchant-Ivory Productions banner; Connie Kaiserman produced, directed and scripted

1986

Breakthrough feature and first film based on an E.M. Forster novel, "A Room with a View"; received eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture

1987

Tackled Forster again with adaptation of the gay-themed "Maurice"

1989

Missed with "Slaves of New York", scripted by Tama Janowitz from her book of stories

1990

Teamed with Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward for "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge"

1992

Third Forster adaptation, "Howards End" which received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture; starred Emma Thompson (who won a Best Actress Oscar), Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave

1992

Closed a three-year production deal with Walt Disney Studios

1993

Reteamed with Thompson and Hopkins for "Remains of the Day"; nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture (produced with Mike Nichols and John Calley), second film with Reeve

1993

First film under the Disney/Merchant-Ivory deal, "Jefferson in Paris"; played small role as Tipoo Sultan's Ambassador

1993

Opened first restaurant, Bombay Bistro on West 58th Street in NYC

1994

Feature directorial debut, "In Custody"

1996

Third film with Hopkins, "Surviving Picasso"

1996

Helmed "The Proprietor" from his story; a step backward artistically compared with his feature debut

1997

Entered into production deal with UK-based Capitol Films

1998

Produced Ivory's "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries", based on Kaylie Jones' autobiographical novel about life with her father, the novelist James Jones

1998

Executive produced Tony Gerber's "Side Streets"

1998

Opened French-Indian restaurant in NYC, Pondicherry

2000

Served as producer of the James Ivory-directed "The Golden Bowl", adapted from Henry James' novel

2000

Directed third feature, the period drama "Cotton Mary"

2001

Helmed "The Mystic Masseur", an adaptation of a fiction by V.S. Naipul

Videos

Movie Clip

Remains Of The Day, The (1993) - One Doesn't Do That Lord Darlington (James Fox), with friends, observes the accident with Mr. Stevens senior (Peter Vaughan), then consults with his son, the butler Mr. Stevens the younger (Anthony Hopkins), in The Remains Of The Day, 1993.
Remains Of The Day, The (1993) - Dignity In Keeping... Mr. Stevens the younger (Anthony Hopkins) holding forth at the servants' meal with Charlie (Ben Chaplin), Mr. Stevens senior (Peter Vaughan) and Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) in The Remains Of The Day, 1993, from Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.
Room With A View, A (1986) - You'd Have To Fly Over The Wall Touring Florence, at the Piazza della Signoria, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory working from the E.M. Forster novel, as Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) observes Italian street action, and is rescued by rogue-ish George (Julian Sands), in A Room With A View 1986.
Room With A View, A (1986) - I Promessi Sposi Following her eventful trip to Florence, we meet the brother and mother (Rupert Graves, Rosemary Leach) of Lucy (Helena Bonham-Carter) and Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s become her fiancè, which doesn’t please the vicar Beebe (Simon Callow), in the Merchant-Ivory breakthrough feature A Room With A View 1986.
Room With A View, A (1986) - We Have No View Straight to the topic, we meet Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter), her chaperone (Maggie Smith) and their less polite but equally English fellows (Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands as the Emersons), ca. 1908, at a Florentine pensione, Judi Dench also dining, opening the Merchant-Ivory hit from the E.M. Forster novel, A Room With A View 1986.
Remains Of The Day, The (1993) - For One Such As Yourself An early encounter between butler James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) and new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), regarding his father, also a servant, in the Ismail Merchant-James Ivory drama The Remains Of The Day, 1993.
Courtesans Of Bombay - No End To Learning Actress Zhora Segal playing a "retired courtesan" imparts some of her wisdom, as well as her continuing service to the trade, in the Merchant-Ivory made-for-tv semi-documentary Courtesans Of Bombay, 1983, screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Courtesans Of Bombay - They Are Not Bad People Static shots introducing the enclave called "Pavan Pool," site of much of the action, then Kareem Samar, playing a composite-character, the landlord, in the Merchant-Ivory made-for-tv film Courtesans Of Bombay, 1983.
Sweet Sounds (1976) - Mannes College Young New Yorker Alice Damreau is escorted to the Mannes College Of Music, now part of The New School, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, in the Merchant-Ivory documentary Sweet Sounds, 1976, narration by director Richard Robbins.
Sweet Sounds (1976) - The Sounds Of Your Names Instructor Jean Whitelock with her gifted students and the Mannes College Of Music, then a performance from pianist Hui-Kung Suh, in Richard Robbins' film Sweet Sounds, 1976, from Merchant-Ivory productions.
Deceivers, The - India, 1825 Opening sequence, surely the most violent in any Merchant-Ivory film, though directed by Nicholas Meyer, British Lieutenant Maunsell (Gary Cady) terrified, in The Decievers, 1988.
Deceivers, The - She Knows He Is Dead Captain Savage (Pierce Brosnan) and his new wife (Helena Michell), just returned to their post, learn from Chandra Sing (Shashi Kapoor) that a widow (Neena Gupta) plans to sacrifice herself, in the Merchant-Ivory production, The Deceivers, 1988.

Trailer

Family

Noormohamed Haji Abdul Rehman
Father
Textile dealer.
Hazra Rehman
Mother

Companions

Parmesh Merchant
Wife

Bibliography

"Ismail Merchant's Paris: Filming and Feasting in France"
Ismail Merchant, Harry N. Abrams Inc. (1999)
"Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals: The New Indian Cuisine for Fearless Cooks and Adventurous Eaters"
Ismail Merchant, Hyperion (1994)
"Ismail Merchant's Florence: Filming and Feasting in Tuscany"
Ismail Merchant, Harry N. Abrams Inc. (1993)
"Ismail Merchant's Vegetarian Cuisine"
Ismail Merchant (1991)
"Hullabaloo in Old Jeypore: The Making of the Deceivers"
Ismail Merchant, Doubleday (1989)
"Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine"
Ismail Merchant, St. Martin's Press (1986)

Notes

"A producer has to have many hats on his head. You're a financial wizard, a great promoter, you foster a feeling of camaraderie, you win the confidence of those working with you. They all have to believe in the producer. The producer is the heart." --Ismail Merchant to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, March 18, 1991

"[Ismail Merchant] keeps everything in place. He makes things happen. It all works because he is there and it wouldn't work otherwise. I have always thought that the three of us are a bit like the United States Government. I've said this before and I don't mind saying it again. I'm the President. Ismail is the Congress and Ruth is the Supreme Court. That's how we operate. That's how we get our business done and I think that defines our functions." --James Ivory quoted in an October 4, 1995 press release issued when he received the D W Griffith Award

"Some of our films have gone through the roof, and others, like 'Jefferson in Paris' and 'Surviving Picasso', no one went to see. Whether we've made two dollars or two million, no matter. We feel contented because it's work that motivates us. It's nice to travel, to be in Paris, to be in Bombay, to be in New York. But if I had no money, I would still travel, as I was doing in 1962."I have lived in America for 38 years, yet I have no trace of the American way of speech. I remain an Indian, no one can challenge that, but I have a number of branches in other countries. If I went to China tomorrow, I'd feel at home. I can go to a stranger's house anywhere in the world and prepare a meal without knowing where the dishes are." --Ismail Merchant to BIOGRAPHY MAGAZINE, November 1998