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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 16:01 GMT
Stars attend Merchant celebration
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Friends, colleagues and associates of Ismail Merchant have paid tribute to the late film producer at a memorial in central London.

Ismail Merchant (right) with film-making partner James Ivory
Ivory (l) paid tribute to Merchant's "natural sympathy"
Felicity Kendal, Emma Thompson and his long-term partner James Ivory were among those who remembered the Indian film-maker, who died in May at the age of 68.

Singer Tina Turner, Stephen Fry and author Salman Rushdie were also in attendance.

Accompanied by her husband Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter said Merchant had "left the world more beautiful".

The British actress, who starred in the films A Room with a View and Howards End, said she felt "privileged to be a member of the Merchant Ivory family".

Afterwards Burton likened Merchant to the cult American director Ed Wood, about whom he made a film in 1994.

"Ismail was more talented of course, but he had the same ability to create a family around him and brought the same energy to his work," he told the BBC News website.

"I was less inspired by the films he made than by the man himself, and his ability to motivate, encourage and, yes, infuriate."

The event was held at the Curzon Mayfair cinema, which had previously hosted a celebration of Merchant Ivory's films in February 2003.

'Extraordinary curries'

Owner Rupert Wingate described the cinema as "Ismail's second home".

Thompson, who won an Oscar for her performance in Howards End, described Merchant as "a big Indian bear with eyes like prunes stewed in brandy".

In common with other speakers, she also recalled his culinary abilities. "He made the most extraordinary curries," she said.

Tina Turner
Tina Turner was to play Shakti in an Ismail Merchant film
"The phrase 'to curry' favour' might have been invented for Ismail," added actor Simon Callow, who appeared in A Room with a View and made his directorial debut on a Merchant Ivory production, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.

"The lights came on when he entered a room," said an emotional Felicity Kendal, who made her big-screen debut in his 1965 film Shakespeare Wallah.

"God bless you my darling sweet friend, for your talent, your energy and your cooking."

Author Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote the screenplay for Merchant's last production The White Countess, told the invited audience it had been "an honour to work with him on what proved to be his final film".

"It feels wrong that he won't be here to see it," he told the BBC News website afterwards.

At the time of his death Merchant had also been preparing a film about the Hindu goddess Shakti, with Tina Turner in the lead role.

'Protective side'

Tributes and readings were interspersed by performances from Indian musicians Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Sultan Khan and readings of Urdu poems by the actor Saeed Jaffrey.

The event ended with a filmed tribute to the producer featuring contributions from actors Anthony Hopkins and Uma Thurman.

Actor Rupert Graves, who appeared in A Room with a View and Maurice, said the memorial captured "both sides of the coin - his ferocious energy and passion and also his protective side".

"He was the yin to Ivory's yang," he told the BBC News website. "Their partnership wouldn't have lasted as long as it did without that beautiful balance."


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