Ismail Merchant was a famous film producer and co-founder of Merchant Ivory Production Company. This biography gives you an idea about his profile and career.

Ismail Merchant

Born On: 25th December, 1936
Born In: Bombay, India
Died on: 25th May, 2005
Career: Director, Producer, Actor and Screenwriter

With a number of successful films under their belt, Merchant Ivory is a production house of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. Talking specifically of Merchant, he was a classy and impeccable producer where most of his films capture the lives of the English and American upper class society. A majority of his films were inspired by the Indian culture. With nearly 40 years of partnership, the joint venture of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory was listed in Guinness Book of World Records for the longest collaboration in the film industry. Apart from being a producer, Ismail was also a great director, writer, actor and chef. His style, charismatic persona and brilliant sense of fashion were one of the most talked about. Merchant had an element of energy and perfection in each one of his productions, making him a popular name in the film world. To learn more about this great personality, Ismail Merchant, go through the following.

Early Life
Ismail Merchant was born as Ismail Noor Mohammed Abdul Rehman on 25th December 1936, in Bombay. He was the son of Hazra and Noor Mohammed Haji Abdul Rehman who were wealthy textile dealers. Ever since his childhood, he spoke both Gujarati and Urdu. After attending St. Xavier's School in Bombay, Ismail learned Arabic and English too.

When he was just 11, his family faced the ruthless effects of the 1947 Indian partition. His father being the leader of Muslim League was forced to move to Pakistan with the entire family. But, he refused to do so.

After Ismail completed his graduation, he fell in love with film. Fascinated by the colorful world of cinema, initially he decided to become an actor. During this job-hunt, he also did a few modeling roles. This made a lasting impression on him as he began to become more aware of fashion.

At the age of 22, he went to the U.S. to earn an MBA from New York University. After his studies he joined the United Nations as a messenger to support his livelihood and he used this opportunity to convince delegates to finance his prospective film.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Ismail Merchant met a young and upcoming American director named James Ivory, who came there for a screening of his documentary film, 'The Sword and the Flute'. Merchant and Ivory decided to get into a business relationship. In 1962, they started a production company named Merchant Ivory Productions, which was responsible for many successful films. The professional relationship between two lasted for more than 40 before it ended with the death of Ismail Merchant.

During the course of the Merchant-Ivory partnership, there were several award winning movies that were made. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala joined Merchant Ivory Productions as a screenwriter. In 1963, they produced a film called 'The Householder' based on the novel by Jhabvala. This movie became the first Indian-made cinema to be distributed by one of the biggest American distributor companies, Columbia Pictures.

In addition to production, Ismail Merchant directed a number of movies and television shows. His first directorial film 'In Custody' starred the famous Indian actor, Shashi Kapoor, with a story based on a novel by Anita Desai. This film won a National Award for Best Production Design. After his immense contribution to the film Industry, the Indian Government honored him with the Padma Bhushan.

Merchant was known to throw lavish parties with rich delicacies. Since he was fond of cooking, Ismail wrote several books on food. Some of his noted works are Ismail Merchant's Florence, Ismail Merchant's Paris: Filming and Feasting in France and Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine. Apart from this, Merchant has drafted works on film making.

Merchant died on 25th May 2005 at the age of 68 in Westminster, London owing to a case of abdominal ulcers. As per his wishes, he was buried in Bada Kabrestan in Marine Lines in Bombay alongside his ancestors.


1936: Ismail Merchant was born in Bombay, India.
1962: He started a production company called 'Merchant Ivory Productions' along with famous American director, James Ivory.
1963: Merchant produced his first film called the 'The Householder' under the same production house.
1994: Ismail's first directorial film, 'In Custody' starring Shashi Kapoor was released.
2005: He passed away in Westminster, London at the age of 68.