Educated in Bombay and the U.S., Indian-born Ismail Merchant was destined for a business administration career. Rather than waste away in banking or speculating, lifelong movie buff Merchant put his skills to work in the creative arts. He found the perfect collaborators in the form of German/Indian novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and California-born director James Ivory.
The Merchant/Ivory productions written by Jhabvala, among them Shakespeare Wallah (1965), Bombay Talkie (1969), Roseland (1977), The Europeans (1979), A Room with a View (1984), and Howard's End (1992), have set an international standard for superior production values at the least possible cost. These accomplishments are all the more remarkable when one realizes that Merchant and Ivory were almost constantly at each other's throats over artistic and financial matters -- and make no effort to hide their squabbles from the public. In addition to his administrative duties, Merchant occasionally turned director as well; among his efforts was The Courtesans of Bombay (1980). Merchant also carved a niche in the culinary world with his best-selling cookbook, Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine.
In 2005, while working on The White Countess, Merchant was stricken with an illness and died unexpectedly a short time later. He was 68.