Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)
Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel
Plot: A group of British retirees decide to spend their retirement in India, at the well-advertised ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. They discover however, in classic English hilarity, that the hotel is not quite as luxurious as it is advertised to be.
“I have a dream Mommy. To create a home for the elderly, so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.”
– Sonny Kapoor
Old age in India. That one line captures this movie. In a simplistic way, of course. Because this movie is anything but simplistic. Between the glows and woes of growing old and the sights and sounds of (Incredible) India, this film touches on quite an amazingly wide range of themes, including arranged marriages, homosexuality, prejudice, the caste system, and of course, loneliness. It might have been over-ambitious, if not for such an amazing cast and a pretty awesome script.
Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are clearly the stars of the show. As the narrator of the film (like she was in Notes on a Scandal), Judi Dench is in her element. She is gently curious, insightful and poignant – brilliant in all the subtle ways. Maggie Smith is extraordinary too, but more overtly so. With incisive lines like “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it”, Maggie Smith plays a character that is hard-lined, prejudiced, but with a redeeming streak of compassion – your stereotypical old English grumpy woman. Together, they are complemented by Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imre and Ronald Pickup. It would be hard-pressed to find a better cast for a film about growing old.
But this film is not only about old people, and much less only for old people. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is also a portrayal of India – in its chaotic streets and its peaceful temples, in its simple fares and exotic foods, in its poverty of lifestyle and its richness of living. While the cinematography does not really traverse the details of India’s culture, it does enough to hit home the main point of the film: we are oft not in our comfort zones, nor should we hope to be. Thus, most of all, the film is about a journey of self-discovery (yes, even at that age) in the only way that such a journey can be made – by moving beyond comfort zones, expectations and fears.
The script is peppered with British humor – sardonic, witty, and often, touching. The storyline though, is hardly revolutionary. It is also marred somewhat by a seeming deus ex machina in the form of Maggie Smith’s character rising up to occasion after her transformative friendship with an ‘Untouchable’ redeems her. She does what is needed to be done and says what is needed to be said to turn events around. Nevertheless, her lines are realistic enough to not seem overly contrived and the film’s ending is in the end, enjoyable. After all, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”