THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. Director: John Madden. Players: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Richard Gere, Lillete Dubey, Ronald Pickup, Tamsin Greig, Celia Imrie, Diana Hardcastle, Tina Desai. English with some sub-titled Hindi. Theatrical release (Fox)

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Perhaps the most difficult aspect of roping in a well-known, near all-star cast for a movie is avoiding sizable overlaps or the sometimes inevitable clash within the pecking order that can easily derail any and all lofty ambitions. The success that Madden and company had with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and riding that from a meager $10 million budget to a $130 million-plus global phenom movie was in no small part because of how well some of the biggest names in Hollywood came together to deliver a first-rate small budget film. Madden cashed in those chips and now returns with the sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, again pulling the same sentimenta

l strings and once again pretty much succeeding in having us become all sappy.
A few years after setting up the titular Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, Sonny (Patel), the enterprising, though not always polished, co-owner is looking to add another location somewhere in the city. Expanding his “chain” of one hotel will, of course, require funding.

Any chance of financing from possible sources in California, where Sonny travels to with the other co-owner Muriel (Smith), hinges on Sonny and Muriel’s current hotel passing a secret inspection to be carried out by a spy that the financing company is sending. Since the hotel is already booked with cranky mostly-British retirees and only limited rooms are available for new guests, Sonny jumps to the conclusion that the new American guest Guy (Gere) must be the spy. The will-they-won’t-they find financing comic suspense unfolds even as Sonny prepares for his pending nuptials to the vivacious Sunaina (Desai).

Most of the previous lodgers roped in from Marigold Un are still holed up tight in Marigold Deux. Muriel (Smith) still likes to keep tabs on what each guest is up to. Evelyn (Dench) has taken up part time work buying textiles to be exported. Douglas (Nighy) somehow gives walking tours of Jaipur’s many historic landmarks even though his knowledge of the tourist sites is monumentally inept and the womanizing barfly Norman (Pickup) might possibly have met his match in woman-about-town Carol (Hardcastle).

Released from the trapping of Hollywood tradition and instead steeped into a chaotic old-world atmosphere proves to be a remarkably carefree juxtapose for Ol Parker’s script.

As if we didn’t know already, abnormal is the new Indian normal when it comes to following social dictates on matters as inconsequential as speaking in turn, not staring or sometimes even communicating with non-Indians. The hotel’s daily rituals are nothing if not a mini-circus of everyone minding everyone else’s business. It is as much a comedy Ferris wheel as it is a lesson in sociology.

While just about everyone appears caught up in cross-cultural crossfire of relationships, living arrangement, business deals, wedding planning, jealousies or setting marital boundaries, two vignettes stand out. Madge (Imrie) is carrying on with not one but two well-meaning and fabulously wealthy local Indian men and yet can’t decide who to choose as she gets chauffeured by her Indian driver for her daily trysts. Madge’s decision eventually turns out to have so little to do with the fact that the Indian suitors are rich or that both have asked for Madge’s hand in marriage.

The other, more showy and yet nonetheless sentimental romance is the link between Guy’s first world dapper professional being attracted to Sonny’s mother Mrs. Kapoor (Dubey), a striking-looking, taut, sari-wearing beauty of a certain age who must overcome multiple cultural taboos if she were to accept Guy’s offer. This depiction of an Indian widow from an upper middle class Jaipur home perhaps finding romance with a distinguished-looking, white-haired American man attests to a change in the portrayal of ethnically Indian characters in western movies.

The grandest preoccupation in this vista is preoccupation with sex. As portrayed here, it is handled reassuringly enough for anyone worried after getting a little sumpin sumpin after eventually cashing in their 401(k). Given the story’s sexual frankness, delivered subtly and yet all the more powerful because of the subtlety—these septuagenarian pensioners might as well be randy teens bartering affection in post hormonally-charged dating walkabouts. Considering that Audrey Wells’ Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), based on the real-life memoir of American writer Frances Mayes’ self-imposed exile in Italy led to an increase in American tourists heading for that Italian region, it is quite possible that Marigold ignites a new tourist beeline for Jaipur.

EQ: A

VIEW – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCPHcYBRneM

VIEW – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOFlFE-AmB0

Photos from the Royal World Premiere in London: http://fslav.wiredrive.com/present-project-gallery/token/9c2d1b4d9952a48c797abe7cc5038092

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