Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 May 2005

I Feel Like I Just Got Punched in the Gut

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Filmmaker Ismail Merchant, 68, passed away at 4.30 pm on Wednesday at a hospital in London, surrounded by friends and family. He was unmarried, and had no children.

His brother-in-law Waheed Chauhan told rediff.com that Merchant's ulcer burst, causing his death. Merchant had recently undergone surgery for abdominal ulcers. "His body will be brought to Mumbai in about two days for the cremation," Chauhan added.

'It is with great sadness that Merchant Ivory Productions announces that Ismail Merchant, our company founder and beloved producer for more than 44 years, has passed away after a brief illness in a London hospital where he was working on his latest film, The White Countess,' a note on the Merchant Ivory Productions Web site said. Merchant co-founded the company with filmmaker James Ivory.

Merchant was born in Mumbai on Christmas Day in 1936. When he was 22, he traveled to the US to study business at New York University, but was soon sidetracked into the film world.

Merchant's first film was The Creation of Woman, which was an official US entry in the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. The short film also earned an Academy Award nomination that year.

It was en route to Cannes that Merchant met filmmaker Ivory. The stated objective of Merchant Ivory Productions was to make 'English-language films in India aimed at the international market'.

In 1963, MIP premiered its first production, The Householder, starring Bollywood matinee idol Shashi Kapoor.

Merchant and Ivory, in tandem with screenwriter Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala, made close to 40 films together. They won Oscars for such efforts as the adaptation of E M Forster's A Room With A View, and Howards End (three Oscars apiece).

The two went on to earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema history.

Merchant's other love was cuisine; he is the author of numerous books on cooking, including Ismail Merchant's Indian Cooking and Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals.

He also wrote books on the making of films such as The Deceivers and The Proprietor. His last book was My Passage From India: A Filmmaker's Jurney from Bombay to Hollywood and Beyond.

Merchant was honored with the Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Bard's College, New York. For his outstanding contribution to cinema, he was given the title of Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French culture ministry.