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5 things you didn't know about author-screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala


On her fifth death anniversary today (she died on 3 April 2013), we remember the perceptive writer with a look at a few interesting facts from her life.

Sonal Pandya

Born in Cologne, Germany, Ruth Prawer and her family escaped the country of her birth during the Nazi regime and migrated to England where she finished her studies. It was there that she met her future husband, architect Cyrus Jhabvala in 1951 and moved to Delhi, India after their marriage in the same year. She began writing about India in her stories and novels, beginning with To Whom She Will in 1955.

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Prawer Jhabvala wrote a dozen novels and 8 short stories until her death on 3 April 2013. Her writings were noted as Indian, even though she herself was still getting to know her adopted homeland and considered herself a refugee.

British writer Caryl Phillips said of her writings,"She understood loss of language, land and history in a brutal and visceral way, and reinvented herself, first in the heart of the old empire, then in the cradle of a newly independent country, and now in the centre of the new American empire."

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In 1962, she met producers and filmmakers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant and began a long partnership with them. She wrote 23 screenplays and won the Academy award twice for Best Adapted Screenplay for the films, A Room With A View (1985) and Howards End (1992).

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Last month, Ivory, at 89, became the oldest Academy award winner with his win in the same category for his screenplay on Call Me By Your Name (2018). In his emotional speech, he thanked both Prawer Jhabvala and Merchant stating, "Working with them for close to 50 years at Merchant Ivory led me to this award."

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Today, on her fifth death anniversary, we remember the perceptive writer with a look at a few interesting facts from her life.

1. Prawer Jhabvala is the only winner of the prestigious Booker Prize who has also won an Academy award. She won the Booker Prize in 1975 for her novel, Heat and Dust, which was made into a film starring Shashi Kapoor, Julie Christie and Greta Scacchi in 1983.

2. She lived in four different countries in her life: Germany, England, India and the United States of America (USA). In 1986, she became a citizen of USA and lived in the same apartment building as her filmmaking collaborators, Ivory and Merchant.

3. Both her Academy wins for A Room With A View (1985) and Howards End (1992) were for screenplay adaptations of EM Forster's novels. She did, however, win the BAFTA award in 1984 for adapting her own novel Heat and Dust.

4. Actress-writer Madhur Jaffrey, who worked with Prawer Jhabvala in Delhi on All India Radio plays, found that Jhabvala's first novel, To Whom She Will, written in 1955, had reflections of own marriage to late actor Saeed Jaffrey.

5. Ivory is currently adapting Prawer Jhabvala's short story The Judge’s Will, published in The New Yorker magazine a month before she died. American filmmaker Alexander Payne, who also won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar twice for his films, Sideways (2005) and Descendants (2012), will helm the project.