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Ismail Merchant- My Passage from India Hardcover – 1 Jan 1999

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Prakash (1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670031631
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670031634
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 1.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,434,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A tour of the Bombay film industry from the 1950s to the present traces the career of Muslim producer Ismail Merchant, describing his early passion for movies, wanderings from London to New York, and collaborations with director James Ivory.

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Format: Hardcover
From the moment the little boy Ismail Merchant watches adoring fans fill a Bollywood star's convertible Cadillac with raining marigolds, the boy is hooked - and so is the reader. This is the frequently hilarious autobiography of film producer Ismail Merchant, complete with smashed telephones and hustles in the lobby of the United Nations. Gives a complete new meaning to the term "self-promoter" and should be a must-read not just for film buffs, but for everyone who has had to sell something. At times a very touching and self-assured book, particularly when Merchant makes fun of himself, clearly amazed by the audacity of his own hustles. Treat yourself. Charming.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x94f98bc4) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9517854c) out of 5 stars A great filmaker's passage from India 17 Feb. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Merchant is an excellent story teller. If you are looking for light, entertaining read, this book is a good investment. If you expect this book will introduce you to Ismail Merchant, it will not. It will introduce you to Ismail Merchant the producer and director of off-beat films who, with indefatigable zeal for film making, has earned the right to be included in the list of international film makers. An enterprising individual who is a self-made entrepreneur.
A more accurate title would be: An Indian film maker's passage from India. Because there is little that Merchant discloses about himself or even his trade. Living and interacting in a world of glamor and beauties, Merchant is mum about his emotions. If such a lively individual has a romantic side, the book discloses nothing. Except his childhood "innocent" infatuation with India's popular actress Nimmi in the fifties, Merchant displays or at least discloses no other "infatuation." Apparently, he never married. Despite starting his feature film career with the Householder (1962), Merchant never discloses why he himself did not decide to be a householder himself. There is an underlying shyness or uncomfortableness in revealing himself to the reader. Or being so deft and intelligent Merchant is saving his real autobiography for another time. In this book all we are allowed is a glimpse of Merchant the enterprising film producer and his incredible journey..
Unlike many Merchant-Ivory early art films, Merchant's book is entertaining and written in a vivid, uncomplicated style. If like me you are familiar with the terrain (India) and time (60s the pre-inflation golden age of India), Merchant can transport you back to those giddy times. With a touch of a maestro, he brings vivid recollections of the golden age of Indian cinema of which the West knows very little. He weaves exotic connections between India's art directors (Satyajit Ray and himself), Bombay film world and Hollywood. Surprisingly, except for Bombay Talkie and a documentary, his interactions with Bombay are very limited.. It was Bombay that triggered his love of the cinema.
Do not expect to get philosophical definitions of anything from this versatile man. He sets out to make films on Indian themes. Yet, what is "Indianness" is never commented upon let alone any attempts toward defining. Ironically, Merchant's first feature film (Householder) meets with limited success in New York, not because of any unique "Indianness" but because of universal human qualities and situations it depicts: An intrusive mother-in-law, compliant Son, a stubborn, independent and falling in love all over with spouse in her absence. Indians are not that different after all!
Many readers will not pay much attention let alone be bothered. What did bother me was the apolitical nature of Mr. Merchant. With the exception of his boyhood partition memories, no political events on any continent, including those that effect him are mentioned. Maybe art films can be separated from politics. But why is his book so apolitical is beyond me. Ironically, to this day Mr. Merchant is harassed by the corruption that pervades India's governments. Still he has very little to say about politics and its effects on people. When Utpal Dutt (actor with a leading role in his film The Guru) is arrested, Merchant approaches the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. With some manuevering Dutt is conditionally released by the West Bengal communist government. The film is made. Merchant, however, does not question the arrest. Individual rights, rule of law, abuse of government powers are never mentioned let alone questioned. (No mention of Nehru's death or Indira Gandhi's murder. No mention of the deteriorating conditions in India-- the mismanagement of public resources and the duping of the public, mobsters , the Hindu-Muslim riots taking of innocent life--all the unpleasant realities of India are meticulously avoided. Maybe it is bad marketing to expose the underbelly of India.
Yet Merchant is exposed to this underbelly in his own account while filming the Courtesans of Bombay, in the red light district of Bombay. He, first hand, encounters the exploitation of woman by hands of criminals. He witnesses switchblade fights but does nothing to expose the sad plight of the dancing women. The dance of life must go on. That the government has failed is not obvious to Merchant (I told you he was very apolitical) Is there honor in receiving the Padma Bhushan from such a failed establishment?
Okay, when it comes to socio-political realities, Mr. Merchant is neither a Charles Dickens or Mark Twain. What Merchant lacks in political depth he makes up in an effusive sense of humor which can compete with either Dickens or Twain. My Passage From India, is a great, true short story that will enthrall, in particular people familiar with the terrain and time. There is a joke or a quip embedded in every page. Like all great men Mr. Merchant undoubtedly has a great sense of humor, passion for life which, of course, includes food . I can go on and on (like Aan, Nimmi's great Hindi film which made an impression on young Merchant and goaded him to follow his calling.) But in deference to short artistic film I must stop.
I do not know Mr. Merchant personally nor am I connected in any way with Merchant-Ivory company. Nor am I am being paid to write this. Therefore, my advice is unbiased. Go ahead and buy My Passage From India Especially those who love Indian literature in English. As with the legendary Merchant cuisine (I trust his judgment on that) this book shall not disappoint.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95cb054c) out of 5 stars Wonderful Read 20 April 2004
By Sujatha - Published on
Format: Hardcover
My fascination for Ismail Merchant started when I read an article on him couple of years ago. Since then, my interest in reading about the man and his journey has been immense. Finally I found the right book.
It has the makings of a classic book - Its entertaining, informative, uncomplicated and is about the journey of a man whose dreams came true. I couldn't stop laughing when he mentions about the many incidents and decisions he made. I admire the common sense, persuasive skills and fearlessness of the man. I highly recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9619f7a4) out of 5 stars Wonderful Read!! 20 April 2004
By Sujatha - Published on
Format: Hardcover
My fascination for Ismail Merchant started when I read an article on him couple of years ago. Since then, my interest in reading about the man and his journey has been immense. Finally I found the right book.
It has the makings of a classic book - Its entertaining, informative, uncomplicated and is about the journey of a man whose dreams came true. I couldn't stop laughing when he mentions about the many incidents and decisions he made. I admire the common sense, persuasive skills and fearlessness of the man. I highly recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x954b65dc) out of 5 stars THE FILM-MAKER'S JOURNEY 10 April 2011
By Rajyashree Tripathi - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I prefer autobiographies to biographies or even "authorized biographies" because the author himself is the subject. This naturally lends credibility to the matter unless of course the author has deliberately sugar-coated it or there were inadvertent omissions. After all who but the subject would know the truth better? The author pens his perception of the world around him, his recollections of the happening in life, and the events and individuals who have affected him, and his perception of the truth to the extent he/she best remembers them. The reader thus begins his journey with the author and the subject as one, with a certain inherent confidence. I have read a number of biographies of those related to the world of Indian cinema, namely, Guru Dutt (several), Geeta Dutt, Sohrab Modi, Blaraj Sahni, Nutan, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Nargis and Sunil Dutt, Mehboob Khan, V. Shantaram, Durga Khote, Leela Chitnis, B. K. Karanjia (the one-time editor of Filmfare magazine) etc. With the exception of a book on Meena Kumari where the author has exploited the subject to sale only scandal-- remaining true to the book tile, I have liked most biographies that I have read-- some better than others. And, this book is no exception.

Recently, I received this book as a gift. I have always been fascinated by Merchant-Ivory and although I have not seen all of their movies, I have held them in the highest esteem. Naturally, I was curious how the two found each other and how this most unlikely duo ended up making so many movies. Almost all the artistes associated with them--Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal-kapoor, Ruth Jhabwalla, Leela Naidu, Utpal Dutt and others-- have carved their own niche.

This book is a delightful reading. Mr. Merchant is open and honest. He is direct and funny. He also has the ability to make fun of himself. His account of his adventures, persistence, and plain taking-chances-in-life accounts are engaging. It is not easy to survive in the film world let alone be noticed and succeed. It must have been quite a daunting challenge. However, even in the face of adversity he does not quit. The dismal failures of their films at the box office do not defeat him. He starts all over again. He is not bashful. He drums up the support of Hollywood stars, bankers, financiers, publicists, press and alikeby literally wining and dining them. When big name distributors give him a cold shoulder, he leases a theater to screen his film, invites everyone who counts, and in the process gets written about in the leading newspapers. In fact, this is how he got the minimum requirement fulfilled to get their first short documentary included for screening at the Cannes Film Festival. His never-quit attitude and ever-present-optimism also opens more doors for them. Surprisingly, he does find many, and sometimes most unlikely, benefactors, who have faith him and are ready to shoulder his next project. Blossoming of his friendship with the late Satyajit Ray, who without a blink generously helped him on many occasions, including loaning his cameraman and the equipment, came as a total surprise. As much as it speaks of the generosity of Mr. Ray, it says no less of Mr. Merchant's charisma and persuasion.

Success is hard to achieve. It is especially hard in making art films or parallel cinema, and nearly impossible when there are little or no funds. But having started, literally, on shoestrings Merchant-Ivory ended up securing a place for themselves in the history of the world cinema. I had seen a TV interview of the duo and unfortunately my only memory of them is their quibbling. Working closely with Mr. Ivory, admittedly, a perfectionist, and with their equally fastidious cameraman Mr. Mitra, must have simply added to many of Mr. Merchant's challenges. But they did work together and that too on so many ventures, and made a difference. One begins to wonder how they succeeded in spite of themselves and how their combined creative genius not only survived in the harsh world of reality but flourished for 44 years (ending on May 26, 2005, only with Mr. Merchant's demise during surgery for abdominal ulcers)-- and went on to be included in the Guinness Book of World Record as the longest ever sustained creative partnership. Together they produced 40 movies of which 6 won Oscars and numerous other international awards.

The book, however, focuses mainly on Mr. Merchant, the film-maker, and not the man. As another reader aptly said in his/her review, the book actually deals with a film-maker's passage from India. Besides the childhood memories, infatuations with Nimmi, the Indian star of yesteryears, his perseverance, his pilgrimages to Ajmer, and his culinary talent (he has himself authored a dozen or so books on Indian cuisine), the reader does not get the slightest glimpse of the person. Mr. Merchant remains conspicuously illusive. His book reminded me of Lord Tennyson's lines:

I sometimes hold it half a sin.
To put in words the grief I feel.
For words like nature half reveal.
And, half conceal; the soul within.

Though perhaps not a deliberate attempt, nothing is revealed of him as an individual, other aspects of his life, his views on subjects other than cinema, or his relationships. Only the Cinema. Cinema, as if it were, his whole existence. And, perhaps it was.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book to all those who love the world of cinema. The readers who would probably enjoy it the most are the ones who were adults in the 1960's. For myself, I have started adding in my Netflix queue the available Merchant-Ivory films.
HASH(0x9521d468) out of 5 stars Ismail Merchant is to Film as Garcia Marquez is to books. 28 April 2014
By Julian - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ismail Merchant is a magical person like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Read this as you follow his magical films. Truly international mind.
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