The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is wholesome entertainment that is equal parts warm and fuzzy, and funny and witty.

Vastly set in the historic Indian cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, this is a refreshing story of love as perceived by different individuals. These individuals, mostly British senior citizens, arrive at the titular hotel expecting a peaceful retirement as seen in picturesque travel brochures. Instead, what they find is a collapsing hotel building run by an eager yet naïve young owner. For these pensioners, their travels have just begun and even before they arrive at their destination, they will embark on a journey of joy, sadness, prejudice, and even unrequited love.

For a country that relies heavily on astrology, numerology and other auspices, India has an unwritten dogma; perhaps you could even call it an unsung chant but it exists across the broadening mentality of a nation that continuous to flourish on its most intrinsic value of hope – or the idea that “Everything will be alright in the end”. Not only has this become a widely accepted Indian mindset, it has also become the driving theme behind countless Bollywood films where the cinema going populace will settle for nothing less than a happy ending. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, on the other hand, is not a Bollywood film but a first rate British dramedy that uses the aforementioned virtue as its core ethos.

Adapting from Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things, Ol Parker’s screenplay here comes alive with the use of a veteran star cast. In the lead and narrating this story is Judi Dench as Evelyn Greensdale, a blogger who chronicles the activities of herself and fellow British pensioners living in India. Her blogs are filled with wisdom that comes with age but also adds repartee to the travel and food scene in India, amongst other things. Other members of the cast add equal fervour to their characters including Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly, a bigot who can’t stand the sight of a person of colour. By the end, her transformation into a humane person is one the best parts of the film. Then there’s Tom Wilkinson’s Graham Dashwood, a high court judge who returns to India, his place of birth and childhood. Wilkinson’s character carries a secret that becomes a startling revelation on why he must return, thus setting up one of the film’s most sensitive moments. Also adding depth to their characters is the all popular Bill Nighy along with Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup, each with individual stories to tell that blends into a bigger picture, ultimately forging a sense of cross-cultural exploration.

Unlike Bollywood’s penchant for fairytale endings, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes a few steps back and looks at the real world but then a bit of escapism creeps in with a sub-plot involving Dev Patel as the young hotel owner, Sonny. Fresh off the acclaimed success of the Academy Award winning Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire, Patel’s role as the ambitious young hotel owner is the film’s most humorous turn but also a weak link when a forbidden love affair panders towards a Bollywood-esque theme of ‘Love conquers all’. This minor setback aside, the majority of this film is wholesome entertainment that is equal parts warm and fuzzy, and funny and witty. However, the best part of this film (and if I may refer to this as a character) is India itself, and how director John Madden, cinematographer Ben Davis and music composer Thomas Newman portrays this India feels genuine and strangely alluring. Make no mistake; scripted in detail is poverty, population, pollution and the infamous Indian bureaucracy, but even as these social ills are prominent, India’s unmistakable charm and mysticism prevails, matched only by the wit and charm of her former colonialists. And as for the star cast, this film is a prime example that there is no such thing as an aging actor. Simply put, British cinema at its best!

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.