By: Simran Bhalla
The film, TheHundred-Foot Journey, and 2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, seem like they belong to an older, more genteel era. Perhaps this is partly because they cater to an older, more genteel demographic; a strategy that has proved successful, given that viewers over 40 have been ignored by Hollywood for decades. Marigold Hotel, directed by John Madden, starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson, among others, is about a group of aging Britons who decide to live out their retirement in a ramshackle Jaipur hotel (though they don’t realise quite how ramshackle it is until they get there). Journey, produced and heavily promoted by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, is about a family of Indian cooks who move to a small town in France and open a desi restaurant across the road from a Michelin-starred establishment. It stars Helen Mirren, Om Puri, and Manish Dayal as the young chef who climbs the ranks of the French culinary scene.
The success and subsequent increase in demand for entries in this genre — including Jon Hamm’s lesser effort, the cricket-baseball crossover Million Dollar Arm — represent a new transnational cinema, one that is interested in gentle fantasies of postcolonial harmony. It seems that a globalised movie marketplace is eager to embrace this sort of film as well, especially when populated and validated by Mirren, Puri, Dench and company. Now, a middlebrow prestige picture aims less for Shakespeare in Love (John Madden’s previous hit), and more for Shakespeare Wallah.
The comfort of these films, beyond the tourist-friendly vistas and cabal of seasoned, charming English and Indian actors, is their near-total predictability: any serious disruption on the path to fulfilment would ruin the fun. Both films are set in the contemporary era, where non-fiction is rife with news of culture clashes that turn violent. But the racism these pictures present is either comical or quickly overcome (or both). This is more effective in the ultimately moving Marigold Hotel than in Journey, though the latter has a few pleasing touches as well.
Marigold Hotel features elderly white Britons, many of them middle- or lower-class, who find their status automatically improved once they begin to live in India, eagerly waited on night and day by cheerful Indians. However, in the eyes of the filmmakers, any echo of colonial narratives is purely coincidental. Only the most curmudgeonly film-goer, immune to the charms of Tom Wilkinson joyfully playing cricket with Jaipuri street children, would point them out. In Journey, meanwhile, the experience of poor Indians immigrating to western Europe, and their subsequent acculturation, is as simple as having a laissez-faire customs officer and experiencing the rich fullness of French country tomatoes.
In addition to juicy continued…