Cotton Mary

Cotton Mary

Product ID: 3512

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Author: Ismail Merchant
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2000
Language: English
Pages: 138
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9780140295757


An exquisite portrait of postcolonial India, this remarkable film brings to life the racial tensions and the uncertainties of ambiguous cultural identity in an India newly liberated from British domination.

The setting is Kerala, the time the early 1950s. Lily Macintosh, wife of BBC correspondent John Macintosh, gives premature birth to their second child on the night of Vishu, during one of John's many absences. Lily cannot produce milk, so Cotton Mary, one of the Anglo-Indian nurses at the hospital, hints at a solution. She starts taking the baby to her sister Blossom, a wheelchair-based wet nurse, for feeding.

Seeing themselves as British, both sisters yearn for the colonial past and are thrilled to have a white child to look after. Mary enters the Macintosh household as an ayah and, with Lily depressed and withdrawn, works her way into a position of increasing power. She begins to harbor delusions of replacing Lily as the lady of the house, unaware that her niece Rosie has become John's lover. Events take a strange turn and Mary eventually succumbs to her circumstances which she realizes are entirely beyond her.


Ismail Merchant's first film was a theatrical short titled 'The Creation of Women' which was nominated in 1961 for an Academy Award. Cotton Mary is her first feature length screenplay for which she whom the 1992-93 New York Foundation for the Art award.

She currently works as a freelance journalist, contributing to such publications as the International Herald Tribune and the Asian Wall Street Journal. She lives in New York with her husband and son.