The Artist: A retrospective celebrates the genius of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

A retrospective celebrates the genius of award-winning novelist and scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published: December 17, 2014 10:39:44 am

Jhabvala with Shashi Kapoor in Mumbai Jhabvala with Shashi Kapoor in Mumbai

If there was any possession more valuable to her, it was the Erica typewriter. Gifted by her father, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala brought it to India when she moved to Delhi with her husband in the early ‘80s. In her two-bedroom apartment near Vidhan Sabha in Delhi, it was kept on her study table by the window, which overlooked a neem tree and enjoyed pride of place at her spartan apartment.

At the retrospective of the late Oscar-winning scriptwriter and author, titled “Her Three Continents” the black typewriter sits in a glass showcase surrounded by an exhibition of rare portraits, and photographs from the family album. One of them is an undated photograph of Jhabvala and Shashi Kapoor at the Sun-n-Sand hotel in Juhu in Mumbai in 1966 while discussing their forthcoming movie, Bombay Talkie (1970). Another shows her interacting with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant (of Merchant Ivory Productions) in the former’s country home in Upstate New York with his dog, Shah. “These rare photographs are the property of Merchant Ivory Productions. These are documents that give us an idea of how Jhabvala lived and worked. Many of them have been donated to the University of Oregon, USA, by her daughters,” says filmmaker Meera Dewan, who curated this retrospective to celebrate the achievements of the little-known author. The exhibition, at the India International Centre, also celebrates 50 years of Jhabvala’s partnership with Merchant Ivory Productions.

jhabvala2 With Ismail Merchant and James Ivory in the latter’s country home in Upstate New York with his dog.

 

Born to Jewish parents in Cologne, Germany, she moved to India with her Indian-advocate husband Cyrus Jhabvala. She remains the only author to have received both an Oscar and a Booker Prize. She won two Academy awards for her screenplay adaptations of English novelist EM Forster’s works by the same name: A Room with a View (1986) and Howard’s End (1992). The former is among the seven films being screened at the retrospective. The others include The Householder (1963) and Shakespeare Wallah (1965). “She was overwhelmed by the pollution in India and had trouble adjusting to life here and longed to move to Europe,” says Dewan. Jhabvala passed away in New York last year.

Dewan approached her eldest daughter Renana Jhabvala for this festival. A hand-written manuscript on display from the film Mr and Mrs Bridge (1990) gives a glimpse into her working habits. She was a disciplined lady, who wrote daily between 10 am and 1 pm, and always used a Parker pen to write the first draft. She wrote the final draft on her typewriter. A set of movie posters on display show the work done by Merchant Ivory Productions and Jhabvala, who wrote over 23 screenplays, besides 12 novels and a collection of short stories.

The retrospective is on till December 22 at India International Centre. Contact: 24619431

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