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James Ivory on keeping his relationship with Ismail Merchant a secret: I wasn’t about to undermine him

At 89, James Ivory recently became the oldest Oscar-winner. He won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name. For years, he has made films under the Merchant-Ivory banner that borrows the other half of it’s title from his partner of 44 years, Ismail Merchant.

Their partnership, both professional and personal, began way back in 1961 and continued till Merchant’s death in 2005.In an interview with The Guardian, James Ivory revealed why he kept his relationship with Merchant a secret. He never mentioned his sexual relationship with Merchant as he believed “that is not something that an Indian Muslim would ever say publicly or in print.”

Ivory said that Merchant belonged to a conservative family that wasn’t fine with the idea of such relationships. He said, “Since we were so close and lived most of our lives together, I wasn’t about to undermine him.”Ivory advocates full frontal nudity for men in films showing a sexual bond. He says films that show characters ‘covered with sheets’ seem ‘phoney’ to him.

Merchant-Ivory Productions worked on three dimensions. While Merchant produced the films, Ivory directed most of them with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala writing most of the scripts. Their religious and ethnic diversity made these films distinct from the mainstream films made in Hollywood and India.

From Shakespeare Wallah to The Guru to Autobiography Of A Princess, Ivory-Merchant films focused on the overlooked parts of Indian society and how they are important for a conclusive growth. Many of these productions won them nominations and wins at the Baftas, Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

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