09 June 2012

Sex and spices in a Jaipur hotel

TheWest Australian believed that if you loved Tea With Mussolini, Venus, Ladies in Lavender and Late Bloomers, you will love The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Love them? They were my favourite films ever! Then add Howard's End, Room with a View, The Shooting Party and My House In Umbria, and you will have my favourite cinema-going life in a nutshell.

I read a very mixed review of the film called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, suggesting that the acting and photography were beautiful, but that the story was quite limited. The lack of originality would, it was suggested, be particularly acute for the film goer who had never been to India and who had not read books about Indian society. The fact that the film was based on Deborah Moggach‘s super 2004 novel, These Foolish Things, was not seen to rescue the story line.

None of this bothered me in the slightest because of three factors. Firstly I love Moggach’s novels. Secondly spouse Joe and I travelled widely in central India. Thirdly I know a great deal about the academic history of this huge British colony, at least before independence.

Arriving by tuk tuk; first glimpse of their new hotel in Jaipur

Even more importantly, the fact that the film’s target audience was likely to be people aged 50 or more made us ideal candidates for loving every frame of the film directed by John Madden. Older people should know more about real life. Since spouse’s sister became a widow 18 months ago, we have also dealt with every aspect of poor mental health, loneliness, unemployment and physical frailty associated with mature age.

All the characters had their own story. Judi Dench had become widowed and couldn’t cope with modernity and its endless requirements. Bill Nighy and Jean Wilton were a married couple whose financial security was precarious and their serenity in retirement was looking even more precarious. Ronald Pickup planned to resurrect his sex life, thousands of ks from home. Maggie Smith, a very fine actress, was a rather nasty lady who needed surgery she couldn’t afford. The character we can probably identify with most easily was a High Court judge played by Tom Wilkinson. He had been very happy in India as a young man and hoped he could recapture his youth. Celia Imre was looking for something new, not her lost youth revisited.

Is there anyone in the universe who hasn't been bored witless in airports?

The Jaipur hotel might have been once a very elegant place, but that was decades ago. By the time the group arrived, the hotel was somewhat crumbly. But Sonny the hotel owner, played by Dev Patel, was young and keen, and tried his best to make the dilapidated hotel into a home. Sonny was fighting his own battles. His mother (Lillette Dubey) thought the hotel would fail and, worse still, she disapproved of his beautiful girlfriend (Tina Desae) who worked at a call centre.

Joe and I loved Jaipur’s architecture and history when we were touring India a few years ago, but I did find the city messy, noisy and a tad chaotic. And since the film’s cinematography in Jaipur was so accurate and so colourful, I thought I could smell the spices coming out of the cinema screen. So it should not surprise the cinema-goer that older Europeans escaping to India might find that their lives had become messy, noisy and a tad chaotic.

Hotel owner Sonny and his girlfriend taste freedom from mum

I am with Ed Gibbs in the Sydney Morning Herald. For  cinema goers able to relate, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will come as a welcome surprise. A sunny but shrewd musing, it offers an oft-ignored section of the cinema-going audience a delightful hit all their own. And I would add that it offers oft-ignored issues that mature people worry about – financial stability, quality health care, lost youth, rekindled sex lives and graceful retirement.


Andrew said...

We have very similar tastes in movies. If I hadn't already seen BEMH, then after reading this, I would rush out to see it.

elegancemaison said...

Oh I absolutely loved The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. And so pleased that you agreed as I have never really visited India. Loved the cast of English character actors playing themselves or at least their most usual alter egos (lets be honest that's true). The colours, the delightful animation of the people and of course the heat. I mean to buy the DVD so that I can replay it often.

Hels said...


Hollywood films seem to be aimed at the 15 year old market - guns, chase scenes, special effects, space wars, teenage angst. Nothing wrong with that, IF there were also films that focused on character development, a good story and beautiful photography.

Hels said...


oh you must get to India!!

Spouse and I had a fantastic time in India but we only had a few weeks in the central north - Delhi, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Gwalior, Agra, Varanasi etc. Next time I want to tour around the south, including Madras, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Goa and all around Kerala.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Hels:
We have grandparents and great grandparents who were part of the British Raj in India through most of the nineteenth century and up until the 1914 - 1918 War. Indeed, one of our mothers was born in Central India and we have, here in our apartment, many things brought back from that most interesting of countries. All of this should have sent us immediately to the cinema, not least because Maggie Smith is also a best friend of one of our best friends.

But, if truth is to be told, we were put off by mixed reviews largely criticising the lack of a credible story line. Your most thoughtful and balanced review here as persuaded us otherwise and we shall certainly go to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the first opportunity.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

I know exactly what you mean by mixed reviews. I suspect that any young reviewer who looked at the messiness of Jaipur and the apparent shabbiness of the hotel would ignore the goals and dreams of this mixed group of ex-pat Brits.

The photography, by the way, is a delight.as

columnist said...

Oh how nice to read your post. We've been talking about seeing this movie for some time now, (and again today), but have not yet found a decent torrent to download, (am I talking Greek?). But now I need to search in earnest. I have only spent a very limited time in India, en route from Hong Kong to Kenya. But I have been determined to do it better justice, and we plan our next big trip to the "Golden Triangle", and will aim to go in the autumnal months later this year. Seem madness not to, as it's so close.

Hels said...


You will have a fantastic time. A person must travel whenever they can, but India's heat and humidity in summer are excessive. So you are wise choosing the most comfortable months to visit i.e October to March.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Hels [again]:
Taking up your recommendation, we are going this week - most likely on Thursday!!

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

It would be excellent seeing the film with one of your older relatives who had a history in India. My husband drove around czechoslovakia with his mum, and they both valued the experience.

marc aurel said...

Penelope Wilton. She has been a favourite since I saw her in "The Norman Conquests" over thirty years ago.

Hels said...

we were talking in class today about the films that have most affected us. Nobody selected a modern film; most people selected something from the 1940s: How Green Was My Valley, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Black Narcissus, Goodbye Mr Chips. Great films and great actors never fade!

Elite Palm said...

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Hels said...

Elite Palm

welcome aboard. If you haven't read Deborah Moggach's novel, These Foolish Things, now would be the time.

The Guardian (7/2/2004) said "Moggach, a prolific novelist, makes it her priority to deliver thoughtful, satisfying stories leavened with wit and humanity, peopled by ordinary characters and packaged in excellent unpretentious prose".

"They, who imagined their lives were over, will be reborn. The disrespected will have their pride restored, the abandoned will be rescued, the unloved will find true love at last." Amen to that!

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Hels said...


Thank you!

Joe and I had a wonderful time in Jaipur, but we were there to look at architecture - religious, defensive and palatial. I assume it would be a different experience, if people were looking to make their homes there permanently.

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