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New Beginnings

That’s what this film — by John Madden,of seven geriatric Britons who come to India when prospects are all but nil for them in England — is about.

Written by Shalini Langer |
May 19, 2012 2:51:45 am

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

DIRECTOR: John Madden

CAST: Judi Dench,Bill Nighy,Tom Wilkinson,Maggie Smith,Penelope Wilton,Ronald Pickup,Celia Imrie,Dev Patel,Tena Desae

Rating: ***1/2

It’s young, changing India vs set-in-its-ways England; one’s adaptable truths vs the other’s uncompromising facts; the former’s unquestioning spiritualism vs the West’s querulous spirituality; and a life where surprises are ordinary vs a life of necessary routine.

That’s what this film — by John Madden,of seven geriatric Britons who come to India when prospects are all but nil for them in England — is about. They have been cheated in the promise of a post-retirement stay in “an Indian palace with the peace and quiet of an English manor.” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful” in Jaipur turns out to be a crumbling mansion with all of India — from the smells to the sounds — crowding in. As the film progresses however,the seven gladly subsume a bit of Bharat in their bit of Britain.

Based on a novel by Deborah Moggach,the film is replete with characters who fall into categories which generally populate such ensemble efforts: a newly widowed woman who discovers her husband of 40 years has left her with debts (Dench),an unhappy senior judge of the high court tired of his work (Wilkinson),a couple without money now struggling to stay together (Nighy and Wilton),an old man trying for one last fling (Pickup),a woman on the lookout for a companion,preferably rich,to secure her old age (Imrie),and a former governor/housekeeper who is racist and resentful (Smith).

Put together in the same hotel,they find sides to themselves they have never looked at in more familiar backgrounds. Dench learns to be independent,Wilkinson to be unshackled by tradition,Nighy and Wilton to see their differences,Pickup and Imrie to see relationships in a new light,and Smith to realise the similarities in what she sees as a totally disparate class.

The Jaipur of the film’s imagination isn’t too far from clichés either. The bustling tourist city has phones that don’t work (and no one’s carrying a mobile),beggars who are adamant,parents who are authoritative,love that is forbidden,call centre employees who are mechanical and dull,traders who endlessly bargain,help who are servile,rickshaw pullers who fleece,flights that are delayed and a hotel owner who is,to put it kindly,harmless with his lies.

However,the film doesn’t mock those differences but uses these to make a point. Especially with actors who are as old as they ever come on screen,and show it,with warts,wisdom and warmth (especially the pitch-perfect Nighy as a protected civil servant discovering life anew). Old age is a difficult,increasingly long period of growing loneliness and a feeling of time rushing by. However,as long as you are willing to try,“outsource old age” — in the words of the over-enthusiastic if tolerable Dev Patel as the hotel’s owner — life continues. “Everything is all right in the end,” Patel’s character is fond of saying in true Indian tradition. “And if it isn’t alright,it is not the end.” How’s that for new beginnings?

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