Indians Abroad

Ismail Merchant

Famous As Producer, Director, Actor and Screenwriter
Born On 25 December 1936
Born In Bombay, India
Nationality American

Ismail Merchant was an Indian born filmmaker who had directed, produced and scripted a slew of screenplays for Merchant Ivory Productions. In an industry, where professional collaborations barely hold out, Ismail Merchant's 40-year old association with director James Ivory was indeed legendary. An MBA by qualification, Merchant defied conventional professions to become a filmmaker and produced a string of impressive low-budget films along with James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. His collaboration with James Ivory resulted in a number of inspiring films like 'The Europeans', 'Heat and Dust', 'A Room with a View', 'Howards End', and 'The Remains of the Day', that related story of class, social changes and cultural differences. Merchant has also directed a couple of films including 'In Custody', 'The Courtesans of Bombay' and 'The Mystic Masseur'. Despite of his small-scale enterprises, his films have gone on to win a series of feats and recognition for their unparalleled cinematography and fine performances.

Early Life
Ismail Merchant was born as Ismail Noor Mohammed Abdul Rehman on December 25, 1936, in Bombay, a part of former British India. Born to a textile merchant, Noormohamed Haji Abdul Rehman, Merchant had an affluent upbringing. Growing up in a multilingual community, he mastered Gujarati, Urdu, Arabic, and English from an early age. He graduated from St. Xavier College in Bombay before he got his first taste of films. Later, he went on to complete his MBA from New York University. Merchant grew up in a time when the nation was torn by partition and that left an indelible impression on his mind. Fascinated as he was by movies, he always harbored dreams of becoming an actor. In fact, he kicked off his character by playing several small roles in Indian films.

After his post-graduation in business administration, Ismail Merchant went on to work as an envoy for the United Nations. During his association with UN, he came in contact with several Indian government delegates who funded him with aids to help him start-off with his first venture. In 1961, he produced a documentary known as 'The Creation of Woman' that was featured at Cannes Film Festival and won an Oscar nomination. In the very same year, he was introduced to James Ivory, an American director who is also the co-founder of "Merchant Ivory Productions". Their partnership lasted until the death of Ismail Merchant in 2005. In the following years, they collaborated with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the screenplay for most of their films. In 1963, 'The Household' written by Ruth became the first Indian movie to be distributed by an American production house known as Columbia Pictures. His movie 'In Custody' won him accolades and a National Award from the Indian government. 'The Proprietor', 'Cotton Mary', 'The Householder', 'A Room with a View', 'The Remains of the Day', etc. were some of his best work that won him several awards and helped him carve a niche for himself. Ismail passion wasn't just restricted to movies alone, but also food. During his lifetime, he published a slew of literary works on diverse cuisines. Some of the most read ones are 'Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine', 'Ismail Merchant's Florence', 'Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals' and 'Ismail Merchant's Paris: Filming and Feasting in France'.

Achievements and Awards
Ismail Merchant has been honored with a number of awards in his lifetime for his unparalleled contribution to film and arts. In 2002, he was award a Padma Bhushan and also won the beneficiary of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. He is also a six-time Academy Awards winner. His production house Merchant Ivory Productions holds the Guinness World Records for being the only film partnership venture to span over a period of 40 years.

Personal Life and Death
Ismail was married to Parmesh Merchant, but he never fathered a child in his lifetime. His closest relationship had been with his production house partner James Ivory who was also a close friend. In 2005, Ismail Merchant passed away due to stomach ulcers. He was aged 68 when he left for his heavenly abode. Following his last wish to be buried among his antecedents, he was brought to Mumbai for his final rights. He was cremated at Bada Kabrestan in Marine Lines, Mumbai in 2005.

Time Line
1936: He was born on 25 December in Gujarat.
1961: He collaborated with James Ivory to launch his production house, Merchant Ivory Productions.
1961: His movie 'The Creation of Woman' was screened in Cannes film festival and was also nominated for the Oscars.
1963: The production house managed to tie up with Colombia Pictures to distribute their film.
1970: By this time Ismail Merchant and his partner were the most sought after filmmakers in Hollywood.
1993: The movie 'In Custody' won him great accolades including a national award from the Indian Government.
2002: He was again honored by the Indian government with a Padma Bhushan.
2005: The legendary director and producer passed away in Westminster at the age of 68.