Mumbai, May 28: It was a quiet last journey for a man so flamboyant, but that’s what he had wanted.
Producer Ismail Merchant of Merchant Ivory Productions, who died in London on Wednesday, was buried at the Bara Kabarkhana in south Mumbai beside his mother’s grave this evening. It was his wish to be buried in the city where he was born.
His body arrived this morning with close friend and actor Shashi Kapoor being there to receive it at the airport.
Kapoor was also there at Merchant’s residence in Mumbai Central, with daughter Sanjana and a few other film personalities, before joining the funeral procession. Director Shyam Benegal, actors Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Arif Zakaria, Rahul Bose and Neena Gupta, chat show hostess Simi Grewal and the actor of yesteryears, Nimmi ' a fascination with whom had first pushed Merchant towards filmmaking ' paid a visit, though mainstream Bollywood was missing.
Merchant, with James Ivory, the other half of the team with whom he also shared an apartment in New York, often chose well-known works of fiction for subjects, which probably made him too literate for the Hindi film industry.
A crowd, however, had gathered outside his residence to catch a glimpse of the stars.
Kapoor remembered his friend with a fond smile. “I first came to know Merchant in 1961. My wife was out of town and so I had invited some journalists to my residence, as she did not approve calling reporters over. But suddenly there was this man, with an absolutely American accent, who burst into the scene. He told me that I must do a film with him,” said Kapoor.
“I thought he was mad and got rid of him. But he came back and insisted. Then he brought James Ivory (the director half of the Merchant Ivory duo), too. Ismail was the extravagant, flamboyant one, very aggressive with his ideas. Ivory is the quiet one. And I agreed to do a film with them.”
“The first idea did not work. The second, based on a novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the screenwriter for Merchant Ivory, and called The Householder, did. It was a comedy and that was the beginning of a long relationship,” he added.
“I worked with them for eight, nine films,” said Kapoor, who also appeared in Merchant Ivory Productions’ Heat and Dust and In Custody, which was one of Merchant’s rare directorial ventures.
“But Ismail was much more than a friend. He was like a brother. I spoke to him just two days before his death,” he said.
Kapoor said all that mattered to Merchant was making films, “paisa rehta to bhi, nahin to bhi (whether there was money or not)”.