Mutual confusion

The ismail Merchant--James Ivory production team, now synonymous with elegant costume dramas set in the 19th century, first attracted notice in 1965 with Shakespeare Wallah, the story of the Kendalls, an English theatrical family who toured Shakespeare productions around India. The themes of that film--the aftermath (and the aftermyth) of empire, comprehension and incomprehension between people of different races, cultures and religions, and the relationship between an art or profession and the rest of life--have persisted in their work.

Lately Merchant, originally the producer in the duo, has set up as a director on his own account, and in The Mystic Masseur he has given us his version of the postimperial scenario. The principal setting is the West Indian island of Trinidad in the 1940s, with occasional excursions to Oxford University.


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