Opening up about his long and enduring partnership with Ismail Merchant, Oscar-winning screenwriter James Ivory says they kept their relationship a secret because his Mumbai-born partner belonged to a “deeply conservative” Muslim family.
The two men behind Merchant Ivory Productions formed a partnership that lasted for close to 50 years and produced classics such as Shakespeare Wallah, Heat and Dust, A Room with a View, Maurice, Howards End and The Remains of the Day.
Merchant died in 2005 at the age of 68. Over the years, there have been rumours about their personal relationship but both zealously guarded their privacy.
“Well, you just wouldn’t. That is not something that an Indian Muslim would ever say publicly or in print. Ever! You have to remember that Ismail was an Indian citizen living in Bombay, with a deeply conservative Muslim family there,” Ivory said in an interview with The Guardian this week.
“It’s not the sort of thing he was going to broadcast. Since we were so close and lived most of our lives together, I wasn’t about to undermine him.”
At the Academy Awards this year, where he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name, Ivory thanked the late Merchant along with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Andre Aciman.
“I wouldn’t be standing up here without the inspired help I received from my life’s partners, who are gone, our writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who received this award twice, and our famous producer Ismail Merchant. Working with him for close to 50 years at Merchant-Ivory led me to this award,” the 89-year-old said.