THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. Director: John Madden. Players: Judi Dench, Dev Patel, Bill Nighy, Tena Desae, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup with Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith. Theatrical release: Fox Searchlight.
The premise of the film is quite simple; a group of elderly English citizens go to India and discover happiness. The ensemble cast includes such acclaimed actors as Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson.
However, the film aims for as much complexity in imagery as Air India’s Maharaja once did. There is the young hotel manager, played by Dev Patel, ofSlumdog Millionaire fame. His motto, “Everything will work out in the end, and if it has not worked out, it is not the end,” symbolizes the essence of the Indian persona, yet, the director makes him into a caricature.
There is the untouchable servant who preposterously serves food to Maggie Smith. Then there is the stereotypical Indian mother, who forbids marriage between the young lovers, Dev Patel and Tena Desae. This film has layer upon layer of contrived situations and empty promises.
The theme could have been realistic, heart-wrenching, and comical. Old age, after all, is shunned in the West. No wonder then that the aged English arrive at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to live and receive medical care at a fraction of the cost at home.
There are moments of lucidity in the movie, as when the hotel proprietor (Patel) quips that there are many countries where old people are not liked, creating business opportunities for young people like him. Or when Celia Imrie jokes, “I am single by choice, just not my choice.” At each such juncture, the viewer eagerly wants the movie to dive underneath the surface. Instead, the film hands us pat, syrupy solutions to the characters’ dilemmas.
Predictably, at the end of the movie, the elderly Englishmen and women come to the rescue of the hapless young Indian protagonist, who cannot manage his own hotel.
Contrast such English wishful thinking with the reality that today India is producing a highly skilled set of young workers.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel exposes colonial attitudes still entrenched in the British subconscious. Dark colonials blend into the scenery. The Indian protagonist is totally marginalized and subservient Indian characters are caricatured.
At the end, the senior citizens predictably find love, prosperity, and contentment, of course, their rewards for tolerating the heat and dust of India. The racist character played by Maggie Smith is transformed; Oscar winner Judi Dench discovers romance. And the British get to rule India once again.
If only contemporary British life were so very simple. By the time Patel assumes the pose of the Air India Maharaja in the final scene, I wondered whether the British would ever see Indians as other than Peter Sellers’ bumbling idiot in The Party. If only prejudices were not on such blatant display.