The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the elderly and the beautiful) is a heartwarming coming of age tale about 7 English retirees rediscovering themselves and reinventing their lives in an alien land they know zilch about, India, that is. They find the answers to their problems and miseries in an nation which is far from being perfect.
All the seven have 7 different problems to grapple with, such as Muriel dealing with India and ensuring her hip replacement is done by an ‘English doctor’. Evelyn (played superbly by Judi Dench) deals with the loss of her husband and tries to find a job in Indian call centre. Graham is in search of his gay lover (‘I am gay, more in theory than in practical”, he announces). Douglas and Jean try hard to give their marriage a last chance. Madge is hunting down a rich guy to hook up with, and all Grandfatherly Norman wants is free sex, everytime, everywhere.
How these stories intermingle with each other and how everyone gets their ‘nirvana’ in India is something to watch out for. They all are lured to ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ near Jaipur on seeing an online ‘photoshopped’ profile of the same hotel. When they actually turn up, all they get is a still under renovation hotel (far from being exotic) with pigeons, cockroaches, leaking taps and doorless rooms (“doors coming soon”, the manager tries to pacify). The hotel is managed by Sunny(Dev Patel).
Performances and the dialogues (the witty repartees between characters and the profound ones, both) are the strength of this film. The theatre and film veteran Judi Dench was the only superstar in the film and for a good reason. She rises above the script and lends the predictable film a credibility with her nuanced and understated performance. Norman (Ronald Pickup) plays the Casanova at 60 with aplomb. He visits sexologists, practices Kamasutra poses and finally hooks up. When asked “Aren’t you afraid of the perils of having sex at your age?” He retorts back smartly, “Well, if she dies, she dies!”
But my favourite is Muriel (‘lived’ by Maggie Smith), who is the most ‘SCARED’ of India (‘Indians roam in packs!’, she said) and hates all things Indian. After braving her first few days in India, she announces, “I am in hell!” And when offered an ‘Aaloo ka paratha’, she refuses with a grimace saying,” If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.” Later in the film, she has a heart of change and finds the purpose of her life in India and moves on from her tumultuous past. Dev Patel(Slumdog fame) irritates with his overenthusiastic antics and goofy ways. But then it’s his success with acting; his character was meant to be ‘insane’, over the top and irritating. His relationship with his mommy is interesting, played superbly by charismatic (and my fav) Lilette Dubey. His passion for this hotel (which Mommyji is hell bent on selling) is apparent in the dialogue, “I have a dream Mommyji. To create a home for the elderly, so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.”
The film threatens to be predictable and to reiterate the clichés associated with an India as perceived by westerners. But it works bigtime, despite a predictable denouement and clichés such as crowds, poverty, untouchability, camels and elephants et al. The Incredible India first shocks, confuses, overwhelmes the characters but they soon adapt to the quirky and maddening ways of this extraordinary country. Usually most foreign director(Danny Boyle included, Oscars be damned!) exhibit utter lack of understanding when they portray India. No wonder I was appalled to see Kolkata in a poor light in The Avengers. John Madden (The director of Shakespeare in Love) has tried his best to be true to different aspects of the India, the land of baffling contradictions.
The movie gets philosophical in the end but still it doesn’t lose its vivre de joie and the light heartedness.It’s somewhat reminiscent of the film Eat Pray Love but with multiple characters. It will make you laugh and it will make your eyes well up. It will get you in touch with your human side. It makes you look at the vulnerability of human life sans being too serious. It’s the tugging at heart human stories told with great craftsmanship which works here. And the movie ends with all characters almost finding the answers to their dilemmas and inner demons. As Dev Patel says in the movie, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”
Do see this feel good, slice of life film today. And yes, it’s worth a repeat watch.
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