KATHMANDU: I remember a time when British retirees, to get away from winters and heating bills, would go to Spain and nearby places. Then they started coming to India and Nepal, and in India they loved Jaipur and stayed there for something like seven days.
In The Best Exotic Mairgold Hotel we’re introduced to a group of seven Brits with seven reasons to coming to Jaipur. We’re introduced to them while they’re still at home in England. In the order of their billing, they are Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), who has been forced to sell her London flat; the sniffy Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), who doesn’t like foreigners but requires a cheap hip replacement; Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), who are not merely unhappily married but have lost a bundle on their daughter’s Internet company; Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson), who spent the happiest years of his life in India and has now returned to seek his young love; Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie), who is open to the possibility of finding a husband, and Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup), who is open to the possibility of finding a one-night stand.
Greeting them at Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is its exuberant and optimistic owner, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire). He’s inherited the shabby inn from his late father and plans to run it himself, against the objections of his mother, who wants him to live with her in Delhi and marry the bride of her choice. Sonny already has a bride picked out: Sunaina, who works in a call-outsourcing agency — the film’s nudge that the West has not only outsourced many of its jobs to India, but is now outsourcing many of its senior citizens.
As we meet them jammed on the bus from the airport, we suspect that the film will be about their various problems and that the hotel will not be as advertised. What we may not expect is what a charming, funny and heartwarming movie this is, a smoothly crafted entertainment that makes good use of seven superb
Director John Madden juggles to keep his subplots in the air
but these actors are so distinctive, they do much of the work for
Graham is the most affecting character. Reared and educated in India, he moved with his parents to England, leaving love, regret and guilt behind. His character is instinctively open to India and wanders off on daily secret missions, which excite the curiosity of the others and may involve no more than sharing cricket tips with street children.
Muriel is at the other end of the scale. She dislikes India and indeed any place that is not England, and refuses to eat any food she cannot pronounce. Awaiting her affordable hip replacement, she notices a low-caste girl who is sweeping the hotel and gives her a hint. Smith, we discover, spent her entire life in service, raising the children of others, and now in retirement, there is no one to take care of her.
Evelyn apparently spent most of her life having her husband settle all important questions, something to regret after he dies and she finds herself broke.
Light-footed and cheerful with great humanity and based on a novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, the cast is superb with Dev Patel shining as Sonny, the barely-holding-it-together Marigold Hotel manager. When Evelyn sighs, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected,” Muriel crisply replies, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is most definitely the good stuff.
Definitely Oscar material.