Delightful travels with the thespians
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Direction: John Madden
Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith
Age has nothing to do with it — so goes the premise of this India-set fable about a group of geriatrics with a boundless zest for life. The film is a triumph for director Madden (Shakespeare in Love) as well as the grand ensemble of British thespians.
The script is a hybrid of romance, fish-out-of-water comedy and drama. Lured by advertisements, seven English pensioners decide to spend the twilight of their years at a retirement home for the elderly and beautiful in Jaipur.
Of course, the titular abode is not quite what they had imagined. It’s exotic all right, but to label it the best is a bit of a stretch. Many of the rooms don't have doors or telephones, a few are even used as a roost by a flock of pigeons.
Understandably, all except one of the visitors are alarmed. The exception happens to be a lifelong bachelor (Tom Wilkinson, in blistering form) who returns to India to search for the boyfriend of his youth.
He is accompanied by a penurious recent widow (Dench), a couple (Penelope Wilton-Bill Nighy) whose marriage has reached its nadir, a past-her-prime gold-digger (Celia Imrie), and a speed-dating lothario (the appropriately monikered Ronald Pickup).
Factor in Maggie Smith as a racist spinster (“If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it”, she complains about the local cuisine) and collectively the veterans deliver a master class in screen acting.
As the hotel’s overly enthusiastic owner-cum-manager, Dev Patel is —frankly, one didn’t reckon on it — impressive. There’s a nice near-cameo by Lillete Dubey as his overbearing mother.
The film falters near the end. The resolution of the young lad’s love affair with a call-centre employee is a tad too pat and convenient.
The array of Rajasthan locations is visually arresting, unlike other recent films shot in India such as Eat, Pray, Love or the yet-to-be-released Trishna (showcased at last year’s International Film Festival of India in Goa).
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a must-enjoy odyssey.