Ismail Merchant passes away (updated)

Filmmaker Ismail Merchant, whose films won six Oscars, passed away today at age 68 (thanks, Paranoid Android):

He died in a London hospital this afternoon, his office said. The cause of death was unclear, but a spokesman said the Indian-born producer had suffered from stomach problems over the past year…

Along with his creative partner James Ivory, he made such acclaimed period films such as Howards End, A Room With A View and Remains of the Day…

Merchant was born in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, in December 1936 and educated in New York. [BBC]

Merchant… had been unwell for some time and recently underwent surgery for abdominal ulcers, according to Indian television reports.

Merchant and Ivory, an American, made some 40 films together and won six Oscars — four for best picture — since forming their famous partnership in 1961 with German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. [MSNBC]

Merchant left behind his family as well as long-time partner James Ivory. He focused on producing but also directed one of my favorite films, Muhafiz (In Custody). (Has anyone truly lived until they’ve seen Shabana Azmi sing a ghazal Umrao Jaan-style?) His partner and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala helped Merchant churn out a lengthy body of work.

Update: The LAT says Merchant revived his genre:

Merchant not only adapted great books by Henry James, E.M. Forster and V.S. Naipaul, but also helped establish the careers of a new wave of renowned English actors, including Hugh Grant (“Maurice”), Helena Bonham-Carter (“A Room with a View”) and Emma Thompson (“Howards End”)… The Merchant-Ivory model was soon widely imitated, as filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese (“The Age of Innocence”) and Ang Lee (“Sense and Sensibility”) turned their cameras toward classic books.

12 thoughts on “Ismail Merchant passes away (updated)

  1. He was a sensitive and refined filmaker. I really enjoyed his adaptation of VS Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur.

    I remember a few years ago he presented a series on Indian cuisine for Channel 4.

    Rest In Peace.

  2. Although I was never a big fan of Merchant-Ivory films, I do like the fact that Merchant could make films about characters and stories not set in India. Too often, Hollywood assumes that Indians can only make films about Indians, black people can only make films about black people, etc. Merchant was as adept at different cultures and tiem periods. He helped open the door for Nair, Shymalan, Shekar Kapur, and other Indian film-makers who have made films about non-Indians.

  3. We were hoping to have him at SALTAF this year. He’d expressed interest…ach. I’m very very bummed out by this. We’ve lost an icon and an excellent filmmaker…

  4. Oh, how sad. Room with a View was a film that made such an impression on me as a teenager.

    What a talent.


  5. but also directed one of my favorite films, Muhafiz (In Custody)

    One of the best…

  6. It is sad he passed away, he will be missed by everyone who has seen his films and seen through the sumptuous production values (and everything else that seemed to irritate so many of Merchant Ivory critics) to realise how very modern all these ‘period dramas’ were – for they almost always dealt with the fate of being an outsider, about crossing cultural boundaries, about the struggle to fit in, and about being rootless.

    He, James Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – by using the very particular authors and books – created beautiful, touching, humane films about these experiences that are now becoming common to many more people throughout the world and his legacy should be that, not just a maker of pretty films.

  7. either you didn’t know, or didn’t care to mention, the fact that james ivory and ismail merchant were both creative/business and life partners. strangely, the media has pretty much studiously ignored this, except for the LA Times, which says ‘… who was also his life partner’ and the new york times, which tastefully says that merchant is ‘survived by james ivory and three sisters…’, a low-key way of acknowledging what was, for all intents and purposes, a 40-year marriage. if this had been a heterosexual couple, married or not, there would have been paragraphs about the endurance of their relationship and how much they loved each other. this kind of selective blindness is offensive to people in non-heterosexual relationships, and doubly problematic because the indian media will, of course, totally eulogize merchant while treating his sexuality as something unmentionable, which does a great disservice both to merchant and to a lot of gay indians, who are made to feel both invisible and somehow ‘un-indian’ for being themselves. perhaps sepia mutiny could remedy this? 🙂

  8. either you didn’t know, or didn’t care to mention, the fact that james ivory and ismail merchant were both creative/business and life partners.

    The former. Fixed, thanks.

    … the media has pretty much studiously ignored this…

    Maybe it’s a respect thing– was he out and vocal about it? Btw, CNN had quite the coded wink:

    Merchant, whose seamless 44-year filmmaking partnership with James Ivory defined the period-piece genre…
  9. “Maybe it’s a respect thing– was he out and vocal about it?”

    Well, they lived together in the same apartment and house for 40 years, very publicly – which several reports mentioned. Being from a generation which predated gay lib, I suppose he didn’t go about shouting ‘I’m gay, I’m gay’. Nor should he have had to. And indeed, I find it unnatural to mention in an obituary that a person was gay – we do not, usually, read ‘The deceased was straight’. Nonetheless, it seemed odd to me that a 40-year relationship can be ignored by the media simply because it isn’t heterosexual. What the New York Times did was exactly right – it didn’t need to mention sexuality, but accorded the relationship exactly the same status/respect as it would a heterosexual one of similar standing. No need for a ‘coded wink’ – surely it’s time we moved beyond treating gay relationships as something that needs to be ‘hinted’ at or ‘winked about’?

    Just a thought (or two). 🙂

  10. Merchant refused to discuss his relationship with Ivory with the media. He wanted to keep his private life private. The media has respected his wishes.