Ismail Merchant, of Merchant Ivory fame, dies

Ismail Merchant, of Merchant Ivory Productions, has died.

Ismail Merchant, the producer of the Merchant Ivory film company, has died at the age of 68.

The company is known for elegant period pieces like its 1992 big-screen adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel Howards End.

According to the British office of Merchant Ivory Productions, the filmmaker died at a London hospital on Wednesday in the company of his family and friends.

Reports on Indian television said that the Bombay-born Merchant had been ailing for some time, and recently underwent surgery for abdominal ulcers.

Along with his partner James Ivory, Merchant made more than 40 films. Ivory, an American, would usually handle the directing duties while Merchant produced. Together, they won six Academy Awards.

Merchant said in an interview with the Associated Press last year that the secret to the success of a Merchant Ivory film is the story.

"It should be a good story – speak about a time and place that is permanent," he said. "It should capture something wonderful with some great characters whether it's set in the past or in the future."

Merchant Ivory was also responsible for such films as A Room With a View and The Remains of the Day.

Film critic Leonard Maltin called Howards End – the turn-of-the-century tale of class conflict which starred Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins – the company's "crowning achievement."

"The team's attention to performance, period detail, and storytelling – combined with flawless casting of world-class actors – created a masterpiece," Maltin wrote.

Merchant first came to the U.S. in 1958 to study for a business degree at New York University. He met Ivory in a coffee shop in 1961, and they started their professional partnership in 1961 with The Householder.

Merchant does not have only period pieces on his filmography. He was also responsible for producing the likes of 1989's Slaves of New York, based on the Tama Janowitz novel about the cutthroat world of Big Apple scenesters.

The third member of Merchant Ivory Productions was German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who scripted each film.

"When we first began, Ruth told us she had never written a screenplay," Merchant said. "That was not a problem since I had never produced a feature film and Jim had never directed one."

Among the soon-to-be-released films from Merchant Ivory is The Goddess, a musical which stars pop singer Tina Turner as the Hindu deity Shakti.