Britons have long travelled to India to “find themselves”, but a new BBC television series explores a new dimension: Can they spend their sunset years in India, at a much cheaper cost than in Britain and with more fun?
By all accounts, the series titled “The Real Marigold Hotel” featuring eight mini-celebrities is a hit. The first episode aired on Tuesday night saw them – including Miriam Margoyles, who played Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films – dealing with the colourful chaos of life in Jaipur.
The three-episode series is inspired by the 2012 film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, in which a group of cash-strapped British senior citizens travel to Jaipur to spend their last years. The series tries to replicate the theme in a reality television context, to some success and fun.
Most of the eight Britons (all over 60) had never been to India, which made their quirky encounters for good television – greeting cows on roads, shopping for toilet paper, waiting for traffic to stop to cross the road, yoga, the surprise at the low cost of living, and meditation.
The first episode depicted their experiences over a week, including travels around Jaipur – Amer Fort, Galtaji, Hawa Mahal – and a mini-debate about the extremes of inequalities and caste while meeting the erstwhile royal family and visiting the house of Meena, a tour guide.
The episode received gushing reviews in the press, while Indian-origin viewers too gave it a thumbs-up, mainly because it had less of the orientalist perspective that has long dominated British films and television shows with Indian themes.
The Times, in its review, said the first episode “sounded utterly naff and was utterly delightful”.
“For once, it showed genuine delight and effort by Britons to appreciate, adjust and enjoy the warmth of our people. There was none of the former colonialist-returning-to-colony treatment that was evident until recently,” said Ravi Singh, a senior IT consultant in Maidenhead.
Naresh Kaushik, a senior London-based media professional, said: “I am not surprised that western people are considering India as a possible retirement destination. Whatever debate we’re having in India about intolerance, India is still very much a favourite country in the West.
“But as this first episode showed, India has to work hard to make such people feel comfortable. The two problems they faced on this episode need urgent attention, which are needed even for Indians – cleaner public toilets and pedestrian-friendly roads.”
Towards the end of the first week, the visitors organised a reception in the ‘haveli’ they were staying in for their neighbours in Chandpole Bazar, including tap dancing by noted dancer Wayne Sleep to Indian music, which was witnessed by the locals with some amusement.