13 May, 2021

Ismail Please!

An otherwise engaging memoir made dull by too much self-praise

Ismail Please!
I am absolutely amazed by the energy of this man. He wheedles money from people he hardly knows and produces movies. He is a legendary cook who writes books on fusion cooking that sell well abroad. Roast lamb with green chillies and garlic. That sort of thing. When he is shooting a film on location—Rajasthan, Paris, wherever—he will take off his jacket and cook up a storm for the stars and the crew. That cuts production costs. And take it from me, his food is fabulous.

Meet Ismail Merchant. Our most prominent filmmaker abroad. He was there before Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Shekhar Kapur. His films have been huge hits and have also received critical acclaim. Howard’s End cost $8 million to make and grossed over $70 million. It collected three Oscars. A Room With a View, also based on an E.M. Forster novel, did equally well. But there is a downside. For every successful Merchant-Ivory film, there have been a large number that were excruciatingly bad. I dare anyone to sit through the whole of Surviving Picasso or the more recent Cotton Mary. The...

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