(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 19 May 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/the-best-exotic-marigold-hotel/393033.html)
Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Tena Desae
Director: John Madden
Rating: 2 stars
Based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, and from the stable of John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), comes a bundle of clichés about India, filled out with a cast that’s mostly too good for the script. Of course, the comic timing and sensitivity of the older cast can’t quite rescue the banal love story that forms part of the plot.
We meet seven people from England, forced by circumstances to search out a retirement home in India. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is on the lookout for cheap accommodation after selling her London flat, Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is on the lookout for cheap surgery after cracking her hip, Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is on the lookout for his childhood love, left behind in India, Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is on the lookout for lessons from the Kama Sutra, Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) is on the lookout for sex, and Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) and the missus (Penelope Wilton) are just plain broke. Well, broke and bickering.
So, this lot arrives in India, and the clichés roll out. Oh, my God, look at the traffic in India! Look at the elephant-filled streets of Delhi! Look at the naked people bathing in dirty holy rivers! Look at the controlling mothers who want their sons to give up their dreams and marry into “good families”! Look at the boys who say, “Mummyji”...huh, where did those boys come from? Anything goes in a film about foreigners finding India.
The script and screenplay may have been written overnight. The names and professions of the characters may have been made up in hindsight. Ok, what is a Delhi boy with a hotel to run in Udaipur likely to be called? Sonny. Sonny Kapoor. But, aren’t Rajasthanis usually Singhs, or Rathores, or both? No, never mind, India’s most famous actor is Anil Kapoor. So, Sonny has a girlfriend. What is she likely to be doing? Call centre. Everyone in India works in those.
romance could have been so much more. It’s a pity that people who can pull off their lines so wonderfully were given a limp story and hackneyed comedy. There are a few moments that will make you laugh – like the xenophobic Muriel turning down aloo ka paratha with an arch, “If I can't pronounce it, I don't want to eat it”.
But then, there’s only so much one can do with a line like, “This country seems rather more civilised than one originally thought”. To top it all off, Dev Patel’s character plays out like one of Russell Peters’ old stand-up routines about Indian accents and Indian thought; only, without the saving grace of timing.
The Verdict: You’ll probably like this if you liked Slumdog Millionaire and The Guru.