Ismail Merchant - Details


Although Ismail Merchant was born in Bombay he has lived and worked for most of his life in the West, completing his education at New York University where he earned his Masters Degree in Business Administration.

Merchant's first film was a theatrical short, The Creation of Woman, which was nominated in 1961 for an Academy Award and was an official entry from the United States in the Cannes Film Festival that same year. While en route to the Festival, Merchant met James Ivory who agreed to form a partnership, Merchant Ivory Productions, to make English-language theatrical features in India for the international market.

It was not only the visual beauty and charm of India that attracted Merchant, but also the opportunity to finance his films with funds from the frozen Rupee accounts of major American distributors. These accounts contained distribution proceeds that the Indian government would not allow to be repatriated, but which could be utilized under an agreement to make films in India. Thus, The Householder was Merchant's first feature and the first Indian film to be distributed world-wide by a major American company Columbia Pictures. It was followed by more Indian features, all in some way funded wholly or in part by an American studio: Shakespeare Wallah (1965); The Guru (1969), and Bombay Talkie (1970).

For over thirty years, Merchant Ivory Productions has endured as one of the most productive collaborations in cinema, bringing forth such films as The Europeans, Quartet, Heat and Dust, A Room With A View, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Howards End, The Remains of the Day Jefferson in Paris and Surviving Picasso.

In addition to producing, Merchant has directed two television features of his own: a short entitled Mahatma and the Mad Boy and a full-length television feature, The Courtesans of Bombay made for Britain's Channel Four. The first feature film he was to direct, In Custody based on a novel by Anita Desai, and starring Shashi Kapoor, was filmed in Bhopal, India, and went on to win four National Awards from the Government of India, for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Costume and Best Production Design. His second feature, The Proprietor, starred Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Pierre Aumond and Christopher Cazenove and was filmed on location in Paris.

Merchant's most recent film as Director/Producer was Cotton Mary, filmed in Kerala and starring Madhur Jaffrey, Greta Scacchi, and James Wilby. The film tells the tale of an Anglo-Indian nurse in search of her identity in Post-Colonial India, and has been described as the finest example of Merchant's ability to combine the best of East and West in modern cinema.

Merchant is also a renowned chef and author of a number of books on cookery. These 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. In addition he has authored a book about the making of the film The Deceivers in 1988 called Hullabaloo In Old Jeypur, and another about the making of The Proprietor called Once Upon A Time... The Proprietor.

The Golden Bowl, starring Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman and Angelica Huston, will mark the Fortieth anniversary of Merchant's career in film production, a career which has already earned the Merchant Ivory team a place in The Guiness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema. In addition to the numerous accolades Merchant has won in the world of film, he is also an Honorary Doctor of Arts at Bard's College, New York, has been honoured by the Mayor of New York, and received the Marie des Paris for his outstanding contribution to cinema in France.


  • 25th December 1936 - Birth