Feel-good movie set in Rajasthan, India
“India hits you like a wave. If you resist, you will be knocked down. But if you dive into it, you will be all right.”
These are the words of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel narrator Evelyn Greenslade, played by the luminous Judi Dench. She is one of seven British retirees who travel to Jaipur, Rajasthan, India to live in a restored “luxury” hotel for the elderly. Predictably, their expectations are not met — the hotel is a shambles and its future in doubt — and just as predictably, the characters who take up the challenges thrown at them find a new, unexpected life.
“What do you like about this country? What do you see that I don’t see?” asks unhappy Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton), who recoils in India and retreats into seething negativity. (I’ve seen this reaction among people quite often in India, unfortunately; and I’m sure other experienced India travellers have too.)
“The light, the colours, the smiles. The way the people see life as a gift, a privilege — and not a right. All life is here,” answers retired high court judge Graham Dashwood, played by Tom Wilkinson.
I liked the movie, but not for the expected reasons. I expected to love the portrayal of India — I did not. And I expected to like the direction, by John Madden who directed Shakespeare in Love — I did not. I thought Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) was clownish; and there are a number of cultural missteps that drove my movie buddy (who’s from Delhi) mad. He wanted me to especially mention the broken landline phone — “no one in India uses landline anymore” — and the scene where Dev Patel and his girlfriend kiss and hug in public. This is really not done in India, especially not in traditional Rajasthan.
What I liked least about the film was the sloppy script and direction. The script needs a re-write by a writer with more originality; and the pace of the film should be slowed down. It was rushed and contrived. Add another half hour, and flesh things out! The ending, especially, seemed slap-dash.
What I liked most about the movie was the effect India had on some of the characters; the superb acting; the way the topic of aging is explored; and, mostly, Judi Dench. I thought Jaipur would be the star of the movie, but it is not. Judi Dench is the star. Like the other veteran actors, she’s at the top of her game. Someone on Rotten Tomatoes said the talented British actors in this movie are giving a master class in doing just enough. They are all good, Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy particularly stand out.
I saw myself in Judi Dench’s character — though I am not as old, of course. But I am old enough to no longer hang on to the great illusion of youth, that it will never end. The way she blossoms in India, quite soon after losing her husband of 40 years, is incredibly inspiring — especially to me, who wants to continue having adventures in India when I am her age. All the young starlets in Hollywood put together can’t hold a candle to Judi Dench: I think she is one of the most beautiful women in film.
Bravo to the filmmakers for making a film about aging. I would give a lot to see a sequel — picking up exactly where this film leaves off.
NOTE: To find out about the locations in the film (Jaipur, Udaipur and other places in Rajasthan), read On location in India with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
RATING: 4 marigolds (out of 5)
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