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PRINT February 2000

film

Ismail Merchant’s Cotton Mary

Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala forged a producer-director-writer team that began exploring the clash of cultures about two decades before it became fashionable. With India as the arena and the Raj as context, the piquancy of their unique Indian-American-European perspective on this oh-so-very-British—and, to a lesser extent, Indian—subject, starting with the delectable Shakespeare Wallah (1965), was often lost on all three continents.

Cotton Mary, Merchant’s fourth directorial venture (which opens in New York on February 11), a film about the gradual destruction of an Anglo-Indian nurse obsessed with an English couple’s baby in India in the ’50s, continues in the same vein, albeit without Ivory and Jhabvala. Yet another Indian-American collaboration (this time with screenwriter Alexandra Viets), Cotton Mary treads the very murky waters of skin color, self-hatred,

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