British humor. Bollywood extravaganza. Top British and American actors.
With these elements, who can say no to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?
I can’t remember how I ever wounded up watching the original film, given that I am so out of touch with Western pop culture. Then to my surprise, I discovered during a recent trip to the video store that the sequel to the 2011 film was released last year and is now available in DVD.
The story was originally based on the novel These Foolish Things, but according to reviews, the film version directed by John Madden is so different and thankfully so. It revolves around the lives of British retirees played by Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Tom Wilkinson. The cast is practically a who’s who in British cinema with no less than two Dames in it.
They find themselves traveling halfway across the world to a retirement hotel in Jaipur being run by the young and ambitious Sonny, played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire). Sonny is full of chutzpah and undeterred by the snobbery of his guests as he assures them that…
“Everything will be all right. If it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end.”
The pensioners are faced with culture shock, a rundown hotel that did not meet their expectations, personal struggles and old age, and along the way realize that perhaps a new life beckons for each of them.
The first film was already great on its own. But then came the second film that trumps the original, a rarity where sequels usually suffer in comparison to the first. But I find The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel much better, more hilarious and even more heartwarming. Except for Tom Wilkinson, whose character died in the first, the whole cast returns with the addition of Richard Gere (“Lordy lord, have mercy on my ovaries,” said Celia’s Madge when the Pretty Woman actor strutted into the hotel).
The plot also gives more meat to Sonny’s and his fiancee Sunaina (Tina Desai)’s characters and more Indian flavor with an engagement and wedding thrown into the plot as the hotel eyes plan of expanding. There’s also Shazad Latif (an actor of Pakistani, English and Scottish descent) who spices things up with a potential love triangle.
The cast delivers superbly; with seasoned actors, what more can you expect and every moment onscreen is a joy to watch. Besides, where else can you see Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Richard Gere dancing to a Bollywood song and riding tandem?
Perhaps if Maggie Smith’s Mrs Donnelly would have required such scenes, she wouldn’t have had any hesitation to do it. Come to think of it, it would have been quite a scene to watch Sonny give Mrs Donnelly a spin on his motorcycle. (The opening scene with Sonny driving a sportscar through a highway in America with poor Mrs Donnelly clutching the side for dear life already set the film on the right track.)
I’m not big on Bollywood films though I did enjoy Three Idiots and PK, but the Bollywood-inspired numbers here really gave a fresh spin to the sequel. I love the song Yeh Ishq Hai that was used in the engagement scene (video below is from another film).
The highlight of the film was of course the cast dancing at the wedding reception to Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. But then again, some of the world’s best actors coming together in one film that would surely touch anyone’s hearts no matter the age is the real highlight and reason enough to watch.
Mrs Donnelly also has several golden quotes particularly in her narration towards the end of the film:
“You have no idea what you will become. Don’t try and control it. Let go. That’s when the fun starts.”
“There is no such thing as an ending. Just a place where you leave the story.”
“There’s no present like the time.”
The sequel, however, is definitely not second best. It is the best.
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