James Ivory, a legendary and riveting filmmaker

AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE BY CHAYANIKA DUBEY

A sprightly 92-year-old director, producer, and screenwriter, James Ivory has it all. The Oscar, a BAFTA, the Writers Guild of America Award and several other plaudits.

Image by Sebastian Kim

James Ivory was greatly influenced by Indian director, Satyajit Ray and digitally refurbished 9 of his films. 

James Ivory was evidently destined to be a filmmaker with his unparalleled screen adaptations of classics like A Room with a View, the Remains of the Day, Shakespeare Wallah and even coming of age novels like Call me by your Name, which won him an Oscar. James Ivory created films that were decades ahead of their time and impactful, undermining cultural clashes and stereotypes. In an Interview, he recalled a time when a guy in New York recognized him and jumped off a bus to tell him that how he had changed his life.

Image by Dominic Xavier/Rediff

Designed by a French architect, James Ivory’s 19th century mansion is now a box of memories full of movie magic, heirlooms, gifts from friends and reminiscent objects from the sets of the movies he created.  

James Ivory was captivated by a collection of Indian miniature paintings in a San Francisco gallery which eventually led to him arriving in Delhi to make a documentary. James Ivory said in an Interview that it was a love at first sight when he came to India. Eventually forming a brilliant partnership with Indian born filmmaker Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala the triad made several films earning at least 31 Oscar nominations and 6 Oscars. James Ivory said in an interview “Filmmaking just wouldn’t be as much fun without Ismail and Ruth. Working together has become a way of life for us, not just a way of work.”

Image by Michael Crabtree/Reuters

The triumvirate of Merchant Ivory Productions receive a British academy film fellowship at a ceremony in central London, in 2002.

One of the most successful and enduring collaborations in cinematic history has been that of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, the Merchant Ivory Productions. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes them as the longest running partnership in cinema winning six Academy Awards and several accolades. The Merchant Ivory Productions were widely acclaimed for their cinematography and artistry to induce brilliant performances from the finest of actors like Sir Anthony Hopkins and Shashi Kapoor.

Image by Merchant-Ivory Productions

Shashi Kapoor’s response when asked why people should watch Merchant Ivory films was that they are classics and have a passion for great cinema and everything about the film, from the script to the casting was ‘inspiring’. Shashi Kapoor acted in 7 films produced by Merchant Ivory Productions. 

James Ivory stayed at the Elgin Fairlawn, Kolkata during his fascinating tryst with India. The legendary filmmaker’s obsession with Indian miniature paintings shaped his career and reflected in his iconic style of movie making, capturing India in an avant-garde style. The dream team of Merchant Ivory Productions holds a special place in the hearts of movie buffs all around the world. As the English Actor Hugh Grant told the press, “one worked at Merchant Ivory Productions, not for the money, but for the curry”.