top of page

A Legend in his Lifetime: Remembering Ismail Merchant

Omar Jamil

A memorial essay on the film producer Ismail Merchant.

A few months ago, while skimming through news online, my eye fell upon the incredibly ‘click-baity’ headline: ‘I got you an Oscar. Why do I need to pay you?’ The secret shocking truth about Merchant Ivory. The article in question, published by The Guardian, took a critical look at the relationship between famed director-producer duo James Ivory and Ismail Merchant through the lens of a recently released documentary. Reading through the story, however, I couldn’t help but contrast the picture painted in the story with the man I had known personally. It seemed as through the writer had reduced an intense and nuanced relationship of many decades to the more salacious aspects of the long personal and professional association between James and Ismail.

Ismail Merchant

I first met Ismail in 1997; at the time, I was living in London with my mother’s sister, who was close friends with him. I can still recall my first glimpse of him; resplendent in an ebony suit with Nehru collars and snow white shawl draped elegantly over one shoulder and tucked neatly under the opposite arm, Ismail strode through the foyer of the Royal Albert Hall, the crowds parting before him as the Red Sea before Moses. Perhaps more than any other, it is this image that will always be cemented in my mind when I think of Ismail.

In the autumn of 2003, whilst completing my Masters in Journalism from Columbia University, I had the great pleasure of spending a few weeks shadowing Ismail as part of a university project. During this time, I stayed with the two in their beautiful home in upstate New York, and also spent time with Ismail in the Merchant Ivory Productions offices, shadowing him as he went about his day. What emerged was the picture of a perfect team, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses, alongside a deep, abiding friendship that had seen the passage of decades, and many triumphs and as many challenges. In the world of Merchant Ivory’s award-winning films, every capture moment was prescient, pregnant with possibilities or intrigue or ennui. However, few people got the chance to see the Merchant Ivory version of their own personal world. It was this that I was lucky enough to witness during my weekend at their Claverack home, and that I recall now.



A narrow country road twists and turns through empty fields, through the centre of the small upstate New York town of Claverack, past the local grocery shop and one-time discotheque. The road snakes through the countryside, across the small yet lively Claverack Creek to pass a cluster of large abandoned barns, now defunct flourmill. At the end of a long driveway, nestled amidst a copse of trees, is a massive 19th century brick mansion, gleaming white with forest green shutters. Beyond the driveway, visible through the trunks of leafless trees, the old millpond lies placid and still, leading off into the Claverack Creek. Entering the house, white wooden planks covered with lavish Persian rugs and Afghan kilims muffle the sound of intruding footsteps. Welcome to the home where James Ivory and Ismail Merchant spent the better parts of their lives together.

A classical piano concerto can be heard playing on a stereo somewhere further inside. The faint sounds of clanking dishes and conversation can be heard from within the kitchen, which leads off from the hallway. Within the kitchen are two gentlemen; they are chatting casually, one cooking, while the other idly plays with a large golden Labrador retriever. The gentleman cooking looks to be in his early seventies, fair-skinned and tall, a feathering of fine white hair circling his head, and a pair of glasses perched on his slim and shapely nose. He is dressed in lime-green slacks and a light grey shirt, over which he is wearing a dark green corduroy jacket with leather patches at the elbows; a grey cashmere scarf is draped elegantly around his neck. He speaks in a slow and steady tone, enchanting and poetic in its softness—it almost seems necessary to strain to listen, yet his voice carries clearly, the American accent just barely audible.  He appears to be giving his companion instructions on what to purchase from the grocery store.


At first glance, the other gentleman seems to be paying little attention to what is being said, his attention apparently completely taken with the golden Labrador, which is hungrily eyeing the peanuts in his hand. He appears the complete antithesis of his friend. Dark-skinned, with an ample girth and a patrician’s nose, his eyes sparkle with energy and vivacity. A small black mole marks his left temple and his otherwise lineless forehead furrows every now and then, as if he has suddenly been possessed by some deep thought. He is wearing a red and green checked flannel shirt, above a pair of khaki chinos. On his head, a grey newspaper boy hat sits at a jaunty angle, just about obscuring his thinning grey hair. He continually interrupts his friend’s apparent monologue to ask the dog, Rao, if he would like a peanut. His voice is loud and gregarious and he speaks with a slight South Asian accent.

“We need juice and maybe some oranges…” says the American.

The gregarious dog-lover does not appear to be paying attention.

His friend turns from his cooking. “Ismail…” he says. No response, he might as well be talking to himself. He raises his voice, some of the irritation that is apparent in his expression creeping into his voice, “Ismail!”

This time, the South Asian looks up.

Say ‘hello’ to producer Ismail Merchant, friend, colleague, and partner to director James Ivory—who is slicing fresh carrots into a steaming pot of chicken broth.

Looking back, Ismail’s apparent disinterest in Jim’s instructions and Jim’s exasperation, the entire conversation seems reminiscent of an elderly couple years into their marriage. After thirty years of working closely together, this is not surprising—Ismail and Jim’s friendship was the foundation on which Merchant Ivory Productions was built.

“Without the passion of this friendship, we’d have nothing,” Ismail later told me of the Merchant Ivory collaboration. He added that for them to do a project together, it was essential that they agree. If not, the project was quickly shelved.

Before his passing, Ismail and Jim divided their year between London, New York, and Paris. For the six months they usually spent in New York, weekdays were spent in the city, where each of them owned their own apartment; weather permitting, weekends were spent at the Claverack estate.

In many ways, the estate could have acted as a backdrop for any one of Merchant Ivory Production’s numerous films. Built in 1805 by Jacob van Rensselaer, a local Dutch immigrant politician, the house was surrounded by an expanse of green, peppered with tall, stately locust trees. Just beyond the house, overlooking the creek, stood the red wooden walls of the Red Mills barns, which used to house the Merchant Ivory Foundation, started by Ismail and Jim in 1992 to provide grants to artists from all disciplines. The house and surrounding 100 acres of estate, including the old Red Mills, were bought by Jim in 1970; at the time, according to Ismail, Jim was more than a little apprehensive about the amount of money, and time, spent on restoring the place. However, Jim soon grew to love the estate.

During my visit to their Claverack home, Ismail confessed to me that at some point in his life, he would like to ‘settle down and become a farmer’. He explained that as he grew older, he longed more for the countryside and invited me to come join Jim and him when I (eventually) got married. Sadly this was not to be.



Ismail Merchant was born in Bombay on December 25th, 1936, brother to six sisters. His father, a textile merchant, held for his son and heir all the aspirations typical of a middle-class Muslim in pre-Partition India, sending him to the best schools that money could afford. However, the young Ismail was far more interested in playing truant, hanging out with Indian screen goddess Nimmi, a close family friend and Ismail’s cinematic muse.


It was with Nimmi that Ismail had his first fateful encounter with the Silver Screen and the world it inhabited. “I can remember the exact moment when I knew that I wanted to spend my life in the world of movies,” he told me. He was 13 and had been invited by Nimmi to attend with her the premiere of her first film, Barsaat, which would go on to become a Bollywood classic.


“As we drove towards the cinema in her green Cadillac convertible—quite an impressive car in India at the time—a shower of marigolds began to rain down on us. I looked up, and it seemed as though the marigolds were dropping from the night sky—thousands of golden flowers gently falling around us.”

It was love at first sight for the chubby teenager.


After graduating from St. Xavier’s Jesuit College, the most prestigious and exclusive college of Bombay University, Ismail gained admittance to New York University to study business. While New York was far from the Hollywood of Ismail’s dreams, he was nonetheless excited by the prospect—this was, after all, the Big Apple made famous by the Hollywood’s romantic comedies.


Ismail arrived in New York in August 1958; but the city was not what he had expected. His home for his first day in New York City was a dingy room on the 16th floor of the Martinique Hotel in Herald Square. With only $100 to his name, Ismail set about finding himself a source of income. Having finessed and charmed his way into the office of the secretary of the Indian Mission to the United Nations, Ismail managed to land himself a job as a tour guide for Indian delegates to the General Assembly.

When I asked Ismail what he thought of the role of independent cinema, he said, “Well, independent cinema is the only future there is. There is nothing else. If you talk about Hollywood films, they repeat the same formula over and over again. But if independent cinema is there, you see new ideas are explored, new horizons are tapped. I think that this is the only hope that we have.”

Gradually, Ismail began settling in New York, charming his way through life and making close friends along the way. With his temporary job as a tour guide for Indian delegates soon coming to an end, Ismail set about looking for another job. One of his first stops was the Indian Tourist Centre. While he did not find a job there, he did make life-long friends of young actor Saeed Jaffrey and his wife, Madhur. Jaffrey happened to be working at the information center and, recognising a fellow South Asian, befriended the young Ismail. Both Jaffrey and his wife were studying at the Actors’ Studio with Lee Strasberg and found they shared a common interest with Ismail—the movies. It was through the Jaffries that Ismail was to eventually meet James Ivory.

Together with James—known as Jim to most of his friends—and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the screenwriting component of Merchant Ivory Productions, Ismail Merchant produced over fifty films, entertaining and enchanting filmgoers for over four decades. His first film with Jim and Ruth was The Householder in 1963; the screenplay adapted by Ruth from her novel of the same name. Since then, Ismail was behind the production of such screen classics as the Oscar-winning A Room with a View and Howard’s End, Remains of the Day, and Surviving Picasso.


Even today, almost two decades after Ismail’s passing, the epithet ‘Merchant Ivory Films’ remains synonymous with the cinematic period piece. With their rich and luscious films, frequently located in exotic and vibrant settings, Merchant Ivory Productions created a niche for themselves in modern independent cinema, even earning them a mention in The Guinness Book of World Records for the longest partnership in independent cinema. One could safely say that Merchant and Ivory paved the way for today’s Downton Abbies and Bridgertons.



During my weekend in Claverack, I recall asking Ismail if all his weekends were as relaxed as that one. I remember clearly that he merely grunted in response, falling asleep and snoring softly as the warm autumnal sun filtered in through shuttered windows. Later that afternoon, Ismail let me know that he was cooking, as we would be expecting guests for dinner. Ismail’s enthusiasm for the culinary arts was legendary—right up there with his love for the movies; his recipes have been used by several high-end Indian restaurants in London, including the widely reviewed Café Lazeez on Brompton Road.  Actor Sam Waterson (of Law & Order fame), who worked with Ismail on several films, told me that Ismail was famous throughout the film circuit for the meals he cooked up for his cast and crew on set.

“The one thing I remember is the astonishing dinner that Ismail threw where he was the cook… He [did] that regularly. It was the most fantastic Indian dinner I’ve ever had. The food was special, so was the dinner. He, as chef and master of festivities, was everywhere. It all had his stamp. It was wonderful,” said Waterson, recalling his experiences on the set of Savages, his first film with Ismail in 1972.

Dinner was a small, but star-studded affair. We were joined by Matthew and Carrie Modine and their two sons—they brought vegetarian chili and a delicious pineapple cake. Ismail commenced the festivities with a bottle of sparkling white wine and then served us the feast. The conversation meandered between anecdotes (Modine mentioned a hilarious incident involving Mel Gibson and the stigmata), eventually turning to how Jim and Ismail met.

“It was complete coincidence,” said Ismail. “He [Jim] had not even directed a film when Saeed [Jaffrey] introduced us.” he said.

“What nonsense,” replied Jim, “I’d directed the Sword and the Flute. This is your selective memory again.”

“Well, we have different versions.” said Ismail.

This short dialogue in many ways encapsulates Jim and Ismail’s friendship of thirty years. As they reminisced, Ismail recalled paying close attention to Jim, focusing on his quiet voice. Jim instead remembered Ismail abandoning him at the coffee shop where they met, only moments after arriving there, darting to and from phone booths, calling financers and other “important people”. At one point, he told the dinner party, Ismail even borrowed a dime as he had run out of change.


Ismail and Jim’s first encounter took place in 1961. Ismail had just returned to New York from Los Angeles, where, after several attempts, he had successfully managed to register The Creation of Woman, his very first film, for an Academy Award nomination. The film successfully won enough Academy votes to be nominated in the live-action short film category and had also been entered into the Cannes Film Festival. He had also found an idea for his first feature film, a book called The Householder, written by one Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a German author married to an Indian and living in New Delhi.

Elated at his success, Ismail called his actor friends Saeed and Madhur Jaffrey and told them that he was en route to Cannes. During their conversation, Saeed invited Ismail to a screening of The Sword and the Flute, a film that Jaffrey had narrated. The film, directed by a young American, was a documentary on Indian miniature paintings. 

Following the screening, Ismail was introduced to the 33-year-old director from Oregon – his name was James Ivory. Intrigued by the quiet and unassuming American, who knew so much about Indian culture, Ismail invited Jim to coffee. The two discovered that they shared a common vision and so, on a balmy April night, Merchant Ivory Productions was born at the Right Bank coffee shop on 66th and Madison. 

Today, a small brass plaque commemorates the spot.


On a brisk New York morning later that year, I found myself at the Merchant Ivory Productions office at 250 Broadway, off the corner of West 57th Street, Suite 1825. The office walls were covered with posters of Merchant Ivory films. Littered around were newspapers and files and assorted paperwork; in one far corner were cardboard boxes stacked up—hurriedly scrawled labels informing those interested that these were the Beta tapes for Heights, the latest Merchant Ivory production. The office was empty, except for Melanie Shanley—ostensibly the office coordinator, but more practically everyone’s right hand.

Telling me that normally the office has a staff of six people, including Ismail and Jim, Melanie added that Ismail was not in the office, as he had another meeting downtown which he had forgotten about. Unfazed, I decided to wait; not for long, as it turns out. A few moments after I sat down amidst old magazines with reviews of Merchant Ivory films, Melanie told me that she had Ismail on the phone.

On the phone, Ismail instructed me to do Jim a favor. “Will you run down to the travel agents and pick up his ticket. Melanie will give you the directions.” That said, he hung up. As I got off the phone and Melanie looked at me sympathetically. “He does that a lot,” she said, explaining that Ismail often convinced “random people” to run quick errands for him.

“He’s a master manipulator,” I was later told by Glenn Close. “You have to be to get people to do things for less money… He’s very seductive. Very good, very good. Can get you to say ‘yes’ when you want to know say ‘no’… Le Divorce was a very supportive role and something I didn’t need to do, but he made it so wonderful. He sets it up all around you, so you think alright this will be a good use of my time. But because of the way he makes movies; it’s certainly not the paycheck.”

Close, who first met Ismail in 1984 when auditioning for The Bostonians, told me it is this very talent that enabled Merchant Ivory Productions to make the films that they did.

“He’s tough. Because he’s always made movies on a shoestring budget… What is on the screen is a real tribute to his magicianship, his great talent... It’s an example of everything’s on the screen, in the crazy, crazy world of indie films, where these films are rarely made.”

Yet somehow, at the same time, Ismail managed to combine his politician’s ego with a strange sense of humility. He more often than not traveled by public transport, graciously talking to fans or aspiring actors who recognised him. My aunt, Nasreen Rehman, told me of his uncanny ability to remember the names and birthdays of almost every crewmember he worked with, and that he always stopped to ask them about their lives and families. “After a special screening he’ll stop to say thank you to the projectionist,” she told me.

Ismail’s office staff said me that he also often jaunted out for coffee runs or to pick up snacks for the people in the office. “He’s the only major player who will go out on sandwich rounds for his assistants,” said Faiza Khan, who spent two years working in Merchant Ivory’s London office.

When I returned from collecting Jim’s ticket, Ismail was back in the office, on the phone. Ismail’s office was bright and cheerful, the walls proudly displaying posters of Merchant Ivory films he had directed and a multitude of awards and framed certificates sitting atop a heavily stacked bookshelf. A poster of Somebody Up There Likes Me, starring Newman, hung in one corner of the office; “To Ismail—a real scrapper. Best! Paul Newman” scrawled in a carefree script along the top. In every way, the office was an embodiment of Ismail’s personality, including his ego.


I sat on a soft brown leather couch, my attention on Ismail. He was dressed smart casual, in charcoal grey slacks, a grey-checkered shirt and a flannel jacket with leather patches on the elbows. He was talking exuberantly, switching easily between his flawless English and equally flawless Urdu. Behind him, a huge window overlooked the Hudson River; in front of him, his desk was cluttered with papers and files and newspapers.


As Ismail finished his animated conversation, I noticed his tone was uncharacteristically deferential. I later discovered this was because he had been talking to his muse Nimmi. Leaping up from his seat, he beamed in my direction and thanked me for my help. Then he grabbed my arm and led me around the tiny office, stopping only for a moment to grab a framed poem, “Oscar Winner,” he said, thrusting it into my hands.

The phone rang again—this time it was a reporter from Videostore Magazine who wanted to interview Ismail. Grinning, Ismail picked up the phone.


“Hullo!!” he practically yelled into the handset—I noticed, not for the first time, Ismail’s forceful manner of conversation on the phone, so different from when he was talking to Nimmi. Not wanting to eavesdrop, I got up to step outside, but he waved me down.


“We are the godfathers of independent films!” he shouted happily into the phone. “The concept didn’t even exist when we started. Now everyone is latching on.


“Connect! Only connect,” he added, quoting a Merchant Ivory favorite, E.M. Forster, “If you make a connection you’ve won, if not all is lost.”


Ismail continued in this vein for a while, pausing every now and then only to laugh out loud—his laughter was almost as infectious as his grin, and I found myself smiling despite myself.


“I see all kinds of DVDs,” he said to the reporter. “Scarface, Schindler’s List—that’s what I do,” adding mischievously, “Well, I do a lot more!”


He told the interviewer that the last movie he rented was Splash!, the 1982 hit starring Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah.


The interview soon over, Ismail looked at me. “Did you hear? Well, write it down! Write it down!”


I hovered around the office a while longer, getting a feel for Ismail’s workplace. I recall the atmosphere was electric—Ismail constantly shouting at someone, mostly on the phone. Melanie later told me that things were hectic because Heights was being submitted to the Cannes Film Festival.

Ismail, meanwhile, had spent the past ten minutes yelling at Pierre Proner, one of the staff members.

“Calm down, Ismail,” said Proner.

“How can I calm down?” yelled Ismail. “Why are things not sorted out?”

“It’s all sorted out,” replied Proner, which immediately placated Ismail.

“Oh, ok.”

Ismail’s temper was another of his well-known characteristics. Sam Waterson told me of an incident during the shooting of Savages, where Ismail’s temper saved the day. The cast were “in character” as savages, dressed in wisps of straw and covered with mud, and driving to the location of the shoot. En route, the driver got lost, so they stopped to ask for directions. Upon arriving on location, they discovered that someone had reported them for indecent exposure. Rather than trying to placate the police officer, Ismail “just read the guy the riot act.” He told the officer that they making art and that he was just getting in the way.


As the self-proclaimed “godfathers of independent cinema,” Merchant and Ivory, without a doubt, had an immense impact on the genre. When I asked Ismail what he thought of the role of independent cinema, he said, “Well, independent cinema is the only future there is. There is nothing else. If you talk about Hollywood films, they repeat the same formula over and over again. But if independent cinema is there, you see new ideas are explored, new horizons are tapped. I think that this is the only hope that we have.”

Ismail’s disdain for Hollywood was apparent—listing a spate of recently released teen movies with a grimace, he said it was “rare for something good to come out”. However, he was not without praise for some Hollywood directors, telling me he enjoyed Martin Scorcese and that he watched Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 in the cinema. “I saw it out of complete loyalty to Uma [Thurman]. But he [Tarantino] is certainly a very good director, a very talented man. I just don’t subscribe to his ideas.” Would Ismail have ever worked with Tarantino—whose beginnings were also in independent cinema? “Yes, if the subject were interesting and challenging.” Sadly, this is one team-up we will not get to experience.

In Ismail’s opinion, the independent cinema of the early Noughties was becoming what he called increasingly “vigorous”. “More and more people are being recognised. Of course they have a bigger battle to fight. They have to raise money, they have to see that the films are done. That’s the nature of the beast,” he said to me.

How did Merchant Ivory Productions aid young independent filmmakers?

“It’s through the foundation. We raised the money for Heights, which is done now. Heights is a film which explores one’s own sexual identity, one’s relationships. We are the forerunners of supporting independent filmmakers,” said Ismail.

According to Glenn Close, Heights was perhaps the best example of this support. “It’s a tribute to their supporting someone else’s talent,” she told me, adding that despite several arguments, Ismail’s support for director Chris Terrio was unwavering.

Waterson told me that it was this spirit of perseverance that enabled Ismail to make the movies he did, adding that he thought of Ismail as a modern-day pirate. “It’s that kind of willingness to do whatever it takes to get the movie done and a casual attitude towards all the notions of regular business practice. That makes him a pirate.”

In Waterson’s opinion, it is this spirit, this joie de vivre, that substituted regular business practices in a Merchant Ivory film. “It’s a sense of adventure of celebration that Ismail and Jim bring to a film. A sense of real exploration. Of finding the movie in real time, right now. A complete openness to suggestion and a complete readiness to explore solutions right now on the day the movie is being shot. The feeling that movies would not be worth doing if not done in this celebratory spirit.”


Ismail often mixed business with pleasure. “I think that’s a very good thing to do. I don’t divorce myself, that this is just to be social or this is just to be fundraising. That would be terrible. I mean if I’m taking pleasure in raising funds you might as well combine the two together so it gives you a greater kick!”

One evening in his apartment, as he was getting ready for an opening at Sotheby’s, he told me, with a cheeky grin, “My social life is very busy. Hectic, busy!” As hobbies, Ismail would garden, play tennis, cycle around Claverack, or write. But with his busy work schedule, truthfully, Ismail rarely had time for his hobbies.

He explained to me that, for him, the process of producing a film was extremely involved, from beginning to end. “First there’s the script or the story. Then you go to fish as deep as you can to pull money from people. Let them dig deep into their pockets. That’s how you do it.” Ismail likened the entire process to the career change of a mailroom boy who becomes CEO of the company. “That whole process goes by as a producer,” he said.

What were his motivations?

“Motivation is just to connect. To connect with the world!” he exclaimed that same evening, running into the bathroom. “All the people who are going to read this [article], they should know that this is a man with a mission, a man with a goal, a man with a passion,” he said, over the sound of running water.

When he emerged, he was sharply turned out in a dark grey pinstriped suit, with a bright red shirt. I was reminded of Waterson’s pirate analogy and complimented him on his ensemble. He guffawed, “I am always sharp. I dazzle people!”

This ability to dazzle connected Ismail with people beyond just his professional interactions. Even though she never acted in a Merchant Ivory film, actress Goldie Hawn remained a lifelong friend of Ismail’s. Speaking to me, she described their first meeting as that of “a soul meeting a soul”.

“The most striking thing about Ismail is his zest for life, his endless energy and his laugh,” she said, adding that Ismail was “deeply spiritual”. “He also believes, as I do, in the excitement and truth of what I call the joy of the unseen. Things unseen can be thrilling. Coincidences… the idea that there are no coincidences. He shares a cosmic mind with me. We share the ability to enjoy laughter and joy with abandonment… He’s a very, very spontaneous and free spirit.”

This free spirit showed itself most with people Ismail cared about. Despite his sometimes harsh telephone manners and indefatigable ego, with people he cared about, Ismail was almost a completely different person, showering them with affection and immersing them in that very ego, until his achievements were theirs and vice versa.


On our final day together, Ismail took me to a small café on Broadway for lunch. On entering, he was instantly recognised by all the staff, who led us to a table by the window. A waitress appeared to take our order and within seconds, Ismail had her blushing furiously, barely able to contain her delighted smile. In but a few moments, Ismail revealed his finely honed abilities as a flirt and the waitress was smitten.

She returned in minutes with our order, two bowls of steaming mushroom soup with French bread and two cappuccinos. Leaning forward, Ismail asked her almost conspiratorially if she could heat the bread. Already flustered by his presence, the waitress misheard, thinking Ismail had asked her to eat the bread. His infectious laughter broke out, and soon Ismail, myself, the waitress and at least three surrounding tables were laughing hysterically.


When the frenzy died down a little, the waitress rushed off to heat Ismail’s bread. He turned to me and smiled, only a notch down from his normal killer grin. “See what a little laughter can do?”


As we spoke, I asked Ismail about the love of his life. “Movies are the love of my life, my passion. We should all have passion, without that life is nothing,” he answered, almost immediately. I asked if looking back on his 65 years, he had any regrets. A bit slower to answer this time, Ismail remained adamant however that he had no regrets. I pressed the question and he finally admitted to having wanted to marry and have a family.

“There was this one girl when I was very young, in my twenties. But her family had requirements and I had my movies. She’s married now. I would have liked to have been married and had children. I love children.” For a moment, the ever-present sparkle faded and Ismail looked all of his 65 years. But the mask dropped for only a moment and Ismail quickly regained his balance. “But it’s never too late for that!”

I thought he was done with his answer—but he was not. After a long pause, during which he liberally doused his mushroom soup with pepper, Ismail continued: “It means a lot to have done so much. Last night, I went to this cabaret bar with some friends. There was a transvestite, Princess Camilla her name was. She was walking around the audience, just belting out this song. Of course, she was lip-syncing, but she was really making an effort. Then she came to our table and she saw me, and she stopped and asked me if I was Merchant Ivory. I told that well, I am Merchant. Turns out she had appeared in one of our films, Slaves of New York. She was so happy to see me, she just hugged me and announced who I was on the mike. Isn’t that a good thing? To be a legend in one’s own lifetime?”

Photo courtesy: © Merchant Ivory Productions (fair use)


Omar Jamil is the CEO of Latitude (Pvt.) Ltd, (Lahore, Pakistan) an affiliate of Grayling PR, an Accordiance agency ( Omar started his career in finance, including time with Barings UK, Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari & Co (Merrill Lynch), and Citibank N.A. Omar has also worked as a journalist and written for major publications in Pakistan and abroad, including The Friday Times (Pakistan) and Red Herring (the U.S.), and holds an MS from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. As a public relations and corporate communications professional, Omar has a proven track record in developing and implementing creative, issues-led PR campaigns, including time spent as a consultant for the Pakistan government. He has worked with a number of national and multinational brands, including China Mobile Pakistan, Tetra Pak, Warid, Dell, AkzoNobel, and Nestle Pakistan. Omar is a member of the South Asian Journalists Association, the International Public Relations Association, the Public Relations Consultants Association, the Marketing Association of Pakistan, and the Council of Public Relations Pakistan.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page