American Film Group Buys Out Rights to Iconic Merchant Ivory Films

Julie Christie and Zakir Hussain in Heat and Dust, produced by Merchant Ivory

Julie Christie and Zakir Hussain in Heat and Dust, produced by Merchant Ivory

Thirty films produced by Merchant Ivory Productions, including some iconic titles like Heat and Dust and Howards End have been bought by the Cohen Media Group for restoration and re-release, the Hollywood newspaper Variety has reportedWith this, the Merchant Ivory brand too passes into the hands of the buyers, the paper said.

The deal includes distribution rights to 21 features and nine documentaries and shorts. The paper said James Ivory, the 87-year-old director of most of the films made under the banner, will collaborate with Cohen and serve as creative director for the restoration and re-release of each of the films.

Shashi Kapoor films

The Merchant Ivory banner goes back to the early 1960s and was formed by Mumbai boy Ismail Merchant and American director James Ivory to make English language films in India. Its very first release, The Householder, starring Shashi Kapoor and Leela Naidu, won it accolades and this was followed by Shakespeare Wallah in 1965, also with Shashi Kapoor in it. The Indian actor remained a favourite with the Merchant Ivory team.

Many early films were made in India or with Indian as well as American and British actors but it was Howards End, adapted from the E.M. Forster novel and starring Emma Thomson, Helena Bonham-Carter and Anthony Hopkins that pushed the company into the big time. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including best picture, and won three of them for art direction, best actress for Emma Thompson and adapted screenplay for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

“Merchant Ivory has been a peak on the 20th century cinematic landscape, and we are honoured to have James Ivory on our team working on the restoration and re-release of these magnificent films,” Cohen was quoted as saying in Variety.

According to the announcement, other titles in the deal include The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah, Autobiography of a Princess, Bombay Talkie, Savages, Roseland, Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie’s Pictures, The Courtesans of Bombay, The Deceivers, The Perfect Murder, The Proprietor and The Mystic Masseur. The documentaries include The Sword and the Flute,  The Creation of Woman, The Delhi Way, Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilization, Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls, Mahatma and the Mad Boy, and Street Musicians of Bombay.

However, several high-profile Merchant Ivory films, such as A Room With a View, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Jefferson in Paris and Remains of the Day are not part of the deal.