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Master Story Teller Tells His Story

February 2003
Master Story Teller Tells His Story

Reviewed by CHITRA BONAM

My Passage from India:

A Filmmaker?s Journey from Bombay to Hollywood and Beyond by Ismail Merchant (Viking Studio, 160 pages, $35)

A man?s work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. ?-Albert Camuss

In 1949, Nimmie, one of the upcoming stars in the Bombay film industry, invited a thirteen-year-old Muslim boy in Mumbai to accompany her to the premiere of her first film, Barsaat. As they drove towards the cinema, a shower of marigolds rained down on them. It seemed to him as though the marigolds dropped from the night sky ? it was magical ? just like the movies. Everyone was calling out Nimmieie?s name. It was on that night that the thirteen-year-old boy thought, ?If this is what the film world is, I want to be a part of it.? From that moment of magical marigolds and Nimmie, he became completely obsessed with movies. The thirteen-year-old, Ismail Merchant, is now 66, still obsessed with movies, and is a living legend in the world of cinema.

In his autobiography Ismail Merchant is both inspiring and entertaining and appeals not only to people in love with movies but also for those who dream big. Unlike a typical rags-to-riches story of reaching the top through perseverance and hard work, Merchant writes of his life with humor, not missing the adventure and an occasional dose of luck.

Ismail Merchant, the last of seven children and the only boy, grew up obsessed with Nimmie. After school, he would wait for her at her apartment to return from the studio and she would often take him to watch her shooting at the studio. And it was at St.Xaviers College, Mumbai, that he sharpened his skills as an entrepreneur as he began to organize variety programs and fund raising programs in college. He never lost an opportunity to introduce himself to as many Bollywood stars as he could.

This outgoing and persuasive characteristic and ability to get along with people was to remain with him and is one of the key aspects of his personality. It is also one of the reasons for his phenomenal success.

The wonderful aspect about this book is that it?s not just about fame or movies but also about the satisfying relationships that one develops through one?s work. It?s wonderful to hear one great filmmaker talk highly of another ? Merchant wrote of Satyajit Ray: ?Ray was always accessible; his door was open to anyone who needed anything, or just wanted to shake his hand. There were no gorillas to guard his privacy. He was humble and unassuming, and I?m sure he was completely unaware of the esteem in which he was held by so many people.? He writes of all his colleagues with a similar gentle manner.

On March 27, 2002, Ismail Merchant received the Padma Bhushan award: ?This was a ceremony rooted in history and, for me, it represented a reality absent from the glitz and glamour of show business awards whose artificial tone paled beside the dignity of this occasion . . . It was a thrilling moment for a boy from Bombay whose only dream had been to make movies.?

My Passage from India is a must read for all big dreamers and movie lovers. It?s the story of a life lived with happiness, passion and satisfaction that you?re doing exactly what you want in life. o

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