Ismail Merchant was an Indian-born film producer and director. He worked for many years in collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions which included director James Ivory as well as screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Their films won six Academy Awards.

Ismail Merchant Early Life

  • Ismail Merchant was born on December 25, 1935 in Bombay, Maharashtra, as Ismail Noormohamed Abdul Reh, Bombay textile dealer.
  • When he was 11, he and his family were caught up in the 1947 partitioning of India. His father was president of the Muslim League, and refused to move to Pakistan.
  • He graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay and earned his Master’s degree in Business Administration from New York University, USA. 
  • While in New York, he gave up his family name of Abdul Rehman, for Merchant.

Ismail Merchant & James Ivory

  • In 1961 Ismail Merchant found the perfect collaborators, to put his skills to work in the creative arts, in the form of German/Indian novelist Ruth Prawar Jhabvala and California-born director James Ivory. 
Ismail Merchant
Ismail Merchant
  • Their professional and romantic partnership lasted 44 years, from 1961 until Merchant’s death in 2005.
  • Their partnership has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema history.
  • Merchant and Ivory formed Merchant Ivory Productions. Soon Merchant’s financial and marketing expertise as a producer greatly contributed to the team’s success and enhanced their international profile. 
  • Their first film, “The Householder” (1963) was based on a novel by Prawer Jabvala. 
  • As their partnership developed, Merchant and Ivory moved away from Indian subjects and developed a reputation for intelligent, tasteful adaptations of modern literary classics, especially those of E.M. Forster and Henry James. 
  • Among their successful efforts were Shakespeare Wallah (1965), Roseland (1977), The Europeans (1979), The Bostonians (1984), Heat and Dust (1983), A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), Howards End (1992), Remains of the Day (1993), and Surviving Picasso (1996). 
  • Merchant was fond of cooking, and he wrote several books on the art including Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine, Ismail Merchant’s Florence and Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals.
  • Merchant and Ivory, working together for 40 years made some 46 films and won six Oscars. 

Ismail Merchant Awards & Legacy

  • The team finds its name in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema. Ismail Merchant is also an Honorary Doctor of Arts at Bard’s College, New York. 
  • Later Mayor of New York also honored Merchant. He also received the Marie des Paris for his outstanding contribution to cinema in France. 
  • Merchant Ivory’s autobiographical book is entitled, My Passage from India: A Filmmaker’s Journey from Bombay to Hollywood and beyond. 
  • In 2002,  Government of India conferred upon Merchant the Padma Bhusan. Ismail Merchant also carved a niche in the culinary world. He has authored a number of books on cookery. 
  • Merchant died in Westminster, London, UK aged 68, following surgery for abdominal ulcers. 
  • His family buried him in Bada Kabrestan in Marine Lines, Mumbai, India on 28 May 2005, as he wish to be buried with his ancestors.

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