Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

It's been a long time since a film made me smile this much and for this long. Several minutes after I had left the theatre, I had this broad, goofy grin on my face as I remembered the memorable scenes of the film, and they were many. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a beautiful film about travelling, ageing and finding yourself no matter at what point of life. It's optimism and hope is almost addictive. It is a conventional film by all accounts. However, it employs conventions well and assembles a cast of some of the finest actors in the British film industry today. These depth they bring to the script elevates it well above other conventional fares and the results is a sweet, emotionally rich and personally, a very nostalgic experience.

7 people in their twilight years decide to move to a hotel in Jaipur, India which promises to be an oasis for the elderly. Evelyn (Judi Dench) just lost her husband and leaves the sheltered life of a housewife for a new experience. Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) lost all their savings and are looking for a new start. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) returns to India after 40 years looking for a man who changed his life. Muriel (Maggie Smith), a racist English woman is forced to come for a hip replacement surgery and Madge(Celia Imrie) & Norman (Ronald Pickup) refuse to acknowledge their age and are looking for some action. The hotel, they find, is a derelict establishment run by Sunny (Dev Patel) who has great ambitions to turn the hotel around. As we see them navigate through the chaos of India, bonds are formed and broken; lives begin and end.

The film is scripted wonderfully. Although it stereotypes often and borders on racism at times, one must acknowledge the fact that it is scripted from the perspective of outsiders who are experiencing India for the first time. Having said that, it has a rare maturity when dealing with these issues and more importantly, it succeeds in capturing the experience of ageing quite truthfully. The narration by Evelyn as she writes her blog in India anchors the film in meaning. Certain scenes linger with you for a long time after they've concluded like when Graham meets Manoj, the man who changed his life and the conversations between Evelyn and Douglas.

The performances are wonderful. Even Dev Patel, who is usually annoying manages to endear by the time the film concludes. The older actors bring the required subtlety, experience and sincerity to their performances. They are the lifeline of the film. Of these, the film belongs to Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. It is a delight to watch Nighy take on a dramatic role and do it complete justice. The moment when he confronts Jean about the elephant in the room is powerful and heartbreaking.

At the centre of all of this is India, a country I belong to and love. In November last year, I took a solitary trip for a month in North India and the film evoked many memories of my experiences. The camera captures the colours, sounds and the sense of ordered chaos rather brilliantly. The dialogues reveal insights about the country that are both, genuine and honest. The country becomes another character in the story, driving these people towards their epiphanies and experiences.

Overall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is feel good without being syrupy. It is moving without being sappy and honest without being preachy. By the end of it, you may fall in love with the characters, as I did; leave the theatre with the urge to celebrate the life that you have and be greatful for the privileges it has to offer.

Rating: 4/5

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