Merchant Ivory in India

  |  Buy to Own: 06/09/2004
  |  640 min
Rated TBC by the BBFC


A collection of Merchant-Ivory productions with an Indian theme. 'Shakespeare Wallah' (1965), the film that put the names of James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Ishmail Merchant on the movie map, is based on the real life of Felicity Kendal's family. Touring in post-independence India, a troupe of English actors are struggling to bring the works of Shakespeare to the locals when one of their number, Lizzie Buckingham (Kendal), finds romance with Sanju - a rich Indian playboy (Sashi Kapoor). But there are several obstacles in their way, including the Indian actress Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey). 'Bombay Talkie' (1970) is another early production. During her search for new material, an American authoress, Lucia Lane (Jennifer Kendal), becomes romantically involved with a young movie star (Shashi Kapoor) - and their ill-fated attempts to get together end with explosive results. 'The Courtesans of Bombay' (1983) is a detailed portrait of the red light district of Bombay, filmed as part-documentary, part-drama. The actors function primarily as narrators, detailing the impoverishment that leads otherwise chaste Indian women to seek out work as 'courtesans' - entertaining men by singing, dancing and performing as well as providing sexual favours. In 'Heat and Dust' (1983), based on a novel by regular Merchant-Ivory writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the story switches between past and present as Anne (Julie Christie), an Englishwoman living in India, attempts to discover the nature of the scandal that surrounded her great-aunt (Greta Scacchi) sixty years before. The two women's lives begin to mirror each other as Anne's search through the past intensifies. 'The Deceivers' (1988) is a shock-horror costume caper set in India, with Pierce Brosnan starring as an insecure young Englishman who breaks colonial taboos by colouring his skin to infiltrate a band of murderers dedicated to the Goddess Kali. Finally, 'In Custody' (1993) sees Ismail Merchant making his directorial debut, after acting as producer throughout the Merchant-Ivory collaboration. A college teacher takes a freelance assignment to interview an Urdu poet in India and becomes a witness to the death throws of the country's indigenous culture, under assault from ever encroaching Westernisation.