Released in 2011, this film had been on my list of ‘Movies to Watch’ for quite some time now. I finally got down to watching it today and was blown away.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.
Here’s my review of my latest favourite film. (May contain spoilers. Look out for the Spoiler Alert in asterisks)
A group of ‘hoity-toity’ Britishers land in India (Jaipur, to be exact), and hate it at first sight . They fear getting lost in the ‘squalor, climate and poverty’. At the end, they become a group of elderly Britishers living their golden years in India, experiencing and enjoying a life completely different from their previous one. This film showcases their journey from arrogant disdain to acceptance, grudgingly at first, and later with open arms.
As is a popular belief here, that India is the one country where among a population of over a billion people, one may end up finding themselves instead of getting lost.
Hollywood stalwarts like Judi Dench (if you don’t know her, you need to come out from your cave), Maggie Smith (Sister Act’s Reverend Mother for those who may have forgotten), Bill Nighy (of Love Actually and Valkyrie fame) come together with seasoned Indian actors like Lillette Dubey, Tina Desai, Neena Kulkarni, Rajendra Gupta to create absolute magic onscreen in this cinematic masterpiece that’s helmed by John Madden.
Move over Bond’s Lady Boss, M as here comes aristocratic but vulnerable Evelyn in Judi Dench’s most endearing performance ever. Forget the strict but genteel Reverend Mother of the Sister Act series, as you meet Maggie Smith’s prejudiced and suspicious Muriel Donelly.
An outstanding film that combines the starkly realistic story-telling and superior production quality of Hollywood with the flamboyant, colourful and rich grandeur of India. The background of Jaipur havelis, the colours and customs of Indian festivals and the classical music bring alive a world that one can only experience to believe.
Spoiler Alert– Those who want to avoid the spoilers should skip right to end and read only the ‘Final Word’
In one scene, a traditional, orthodox Rajasthani lady covers her head when she meets a stranger, even as she informs her husband of his gay lover’s arrival. A young Indian girl sneaks off to meet her boyfriend for a mid-night tryst, even as his mother discovers them, indulges in name-calling and questions her (though, not his) morals. Judgemental attitude meets broad-minded, progressive thinking of a new-age India. Centuries old traditions and customs juxtaposed with changing mind-sets like acceptance of pre-marital sex and gay couples, gives a picture of regressive thinking and orthodox beliefs co-existing harmoniously with modern rebellion and youthful defiance. This film is more steeped in culture and tradition than any other stereotypical Bollywood film, offering a truer reflection of today’s modern India with all its contradictions.
I have two favourite scenes from this film.
The first one is an almost ‘one-scene visual description’ of the film. A white peacock hops and skips at first, until it gains momentum, launches into flight and soars into the open sky; much like this film that shows the deceptive first appearances, until the time it gains traction (which happens quickly enough) and hurtles headlong into exploring the lives and magnificent experiences of the residents at the hotel.
The flying peacock also symbolizes an important development in the story and continues into my second favourite scene; equally meaningful and deep. A closeted American dies on Indian soil and is cremated as per Hindu rites, in Udaipur – a city that’s affectionately described in touristy parlance as ‘India’s Venice’ or the ‘City of Romance’. Can’t get any more ironical than that, can it?
In a related scene, Judi Dench’s character Evelyn asks of the Rajasthani lady, if she had known her husband was gay. The lady’s reply is enough to stump Evelyn and is also a stark reminder of what a husband-wife relationship should be, ‘arranged’ marriage notwithstanding.
Even in the midst of such scenes, are splashes of humour. They come at just the right time, bringing in a much needed respite from the sadness without diluting the strong emotion, thus further uplifting the story which would otherwise have become depressing or preachy.
Final Word –
Realistic acting, powerful symbolisms, precise and crisp narration, funny dialogues, outstanding Indian music and above all, a believable story (Yes, it’s a long list!) makes this film one of those that one could watch again and again. And yet again.
It’s not a murder mystery that would lose its charm once the question of ‘whodunit’ is answered. But instead, is a subtle yet moving depiction of the contrast of the modern, western world and the conservative Indian society. An extremely insightful and intelligently funny film that offers a huge slice of a bittersweet dish called ‘life’ and its accompaniments ‘relationships’. Quite a revelation!
They say one must never give away the ending of a film, so I shall not commit that blunder. But I would like to share my favourite line from the film (which in turn is actually lifted from another commercial Bollywood potboiler)
“Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”
This may be a Hollywood movie, but its body, heart and soul are as ‘Indian’ as it can get.
Did you like the review? Does it inspire you to watch the film? Please do share your feedback via the comment box below.