The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Outsourcing old age, that’s the idea.

Imagine in the distant (or not so distant) future, you retire to a warm climate, enjoy a colourful land and best of all, affordable living in a retirement resort. The concept is sold to several retirees from Britain. Little do they know the advertised Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful is a run-down establishment of faded glory. The place is Jaipur, India.

The Hotel owner is Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) who has inherited the property from his late father. Despite his mother’s insistence to close it down and get him back to live with her in Delhi to marry the girl of her choice, Sonny is determined to make it on his own. He has already picked out his girl, and is positive about his plan to outsource retirement, among many other services India is already offering to foreign countries.

The trailer doesn’t do justice to the movie. When I first watched it, I was totally baffled … why would such a top-notch cast of veteran British actors take up what seems to be a shallow and silly farce? But after watching the movie, I think I can make a guess: they must have known what fun it would be to do this, they must have sensed the thematic relevance as well. Why I went out to see it if I didn’t like the trailer? I just couldn’t resist the combined star power and my trust in their judgment.

Where can you see these actors together on one big screen: Judi Dench, Evelyn, who has depended on her husband all the years but now recently widowed, decides to take charge of her life; Maggie Smith, Muriel, who is xenophobic and won’t eat anything she can’t pronounce, goes to India mainly to have a hip replacement she can afford; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, Douglas and Jean, are an incompatible couple who sticks together out of habit and loyalty; Tom Wilkinson, Graham, a judge who follows his heart and returns to his former home to look for a long-lost friend; Celia Imrie, Madge, who at retirement is still looking for the right one, and Ronald Pickup, Norman, seems to know exactly what he wants.

The humour is natural and not forced, the dialogues are witty and refreshing. Something that is not easily found in comedies, with the expert cast of veteran actors, a sense of seriousness exudes from their performance, giving weight to the characters and making their simple storylines convincing.

Oscar nominated director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love,1998) has done a great job in concocting the on-screen chemistry of his cast. Their camaraderie as fellow travellers from the UK and as guests in the Marigold Hotel emit an appealing and quiet persuasion. I’ve enjoyed every one of their storylines. From the very start of the film, I’m drawn into each of the characters while they are still in England. I follow their journey expectantly, open and ready to accept the unfolding of events.

As with all ‘exotic’ movies, there bound to be cultural features that can easily lead to stereotyping and patronizing. That I expected. But what I didn’t was that these ‘typical’ renderings are few and mostly restrained. Further, shot right in Udaipur, India, many scenes are in situ happenings that come out naturalistic and real. The whole movie is a delightful surprise, probably the main one is, I don’t mind watching it again.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Vision not Illustration

Read a post entitled “It’s All About the Story” on the Austenblog relating the controversial remarks the Welsh filmmaker Peter Greenaway made recently in an international film festival.  He criticised modern blockbusters like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, dismissing them as “not films but illustrated books”.  As for all the Austen movies sprouting up in recent years, Greenaway said:

Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel.  We’re still  illustrating Jane Austen novels—there are 41 films of Jane Austen   novels in the world.  What a waste of time.”

This is my response.  I recognize that not all attempts of turning books into films are successful, many far from being effective.  However, a good movie should be the portrayal of a vision, not mere illustration or graphic representation of the written words.  As I have commented in that post, let’s just say a film is the visualization of the novel, not mere illustration.

And there is a major difference between vision and illustration: the former is seeing through an interpretive lens, rather than simply transferring images from one medium to another like the latter.

That’s why we may like a certain adaptation over another of the same Austen novel, and that’s why there can be more than one movie on the same story… Just as Bach had created Theme and Variations, we can have Story and Adaptations. That’s the reason why we still go to the concert hall and listen to different masters playing the same pieces of music, infusing into their performance their own unique persona and interpretation.  As an art-house filmmaker, Mr. Greenaway should have grasped this very fundamental notion.

As for future endeavors to turn Austen novels into films, I say, “All the best!”