“In Custody,” Ismail Merchant’s debut as feature film director, premiered March 10 at Bombay’s Liberty Cinema, with most of the principals present and an adulatory press in tow.
Also on hand were actresses Goldie Hawn and Sally Field, who flew in for the premiere. Hawn, a regular visitor to India, said she will star in “Lilah,” Merchant’s next Disney venture as producer. The Merchant Ivory Prods. film for Hollywood Pictures will be shot in India.
The film follows aschool teacher’s attempts to record the verses of a revered , aging poet and his subsequent concern at the poet’s life of domestic squalor and dissipation.
Merchant said he was pleased and touched by the reaction of those in attendance. He then singled out one of them, Nimmi, crediting the largely forgotten actress with contributing to his early interest in filmmaking.
Of the 35 films to Merchant’s credit, many of them directed by longtime partner James Ivory, “In Custody” is the first in a language other than English. It is scripted by Indian author Anita Desai, on whose novel the film is based, and produced by Bombay-based Waheed Chowhan. The $ 1 million film, funded by Channel 4 and Leak Proof Films of India, has an all-Indian cast led by Shashi Kapoor, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and Neena Gupta.
“In Custody,” opening to rave reviews, is expected to do good business among the discerning film public. Bala Shroff of Shringbar Films is handling the film’s eight-week Bombay run, the entire proceeds of which Merchant is donating to his alma mater, Xavier College.
The film will open in New York April 15 as a Sony Pictures Classics release, with some proceeds going toward the funding of an India chair at Columbia University. The film will open at the same time in L.A., San Francisco and Boston. Mayfair in the United Kingdom, Pyramid in Paris, and Hayden Films in Oz will open the film in early summer.