In the Merchant Ivory partnership, Ismail Merchant has generally been the producer to James Ivory's director. Now, in the latest offering from the long running team, Merchant goes it alone, with fairly successful results.
Based on VS Naipaul's novel, Merchant's comedy-drama is set in mid 50's Trinidad. It plots Ganesh Ramsumair's (Mandvi) extraordinary rise to fame and fortune. In his quest to become a writer, Ramsumair goes through numerous transformations - from a failed schoolteacher to masseur to mystic to politician. But not all goes smoothly and he is forced to question the life and values that his success has brought him.
Along with Caryl Phillips' screenplay, Merchant effectively translates Naipaul's lively mix of characters from the page to screen. Notably Om Puri's scheming father-in-law Ramlogan, Ayesha Dharker's feisty wife Leela, Sanjeev Bhaskar's Beharry, Jimi Mistry's Partap, and James Fox as the barmy Mr Stewart are excellent. And with stunning cinematography, the production values are what you expect from Merchant Ivory.
On the down side, the film is just too long. While the shots of the island are beautiful to watch and the repetitive scenes of the book-reading writer give an insight into the character's determination, it pads out a storyline that at times loses its dramatic impetus.
That said, Merchant succeeds in presenting a part of the world rarely seen on the big screen and a rags-to-riches story that is big in heart.