The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench make growing old look charming

Deepanjana Pal

Mar 20, 2015 10:37:25 IST

Who would have thought that in a film about a bunch of old British codgers coming to India in their twilight years, there nestled the possibility of a franchise? In a world obsessed with youth and sex appeal, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an outlier. Its stars are all wrinkled and gnarled with old age. There’s no torrid passion and the drama is limited. In fact, there’s barely a plot to the film. And yet, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is perhaps the most fun you can have at the movies this week.

Director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker take us back to their picturesque vision of Jaipur, where the retired British crew of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are trundling along comfortably. Little has changed at this ramshackle establishment.

Sonny (Dev Patel) is as full of bluster and ineptitude as ever. He’s now engaged to be married to Sunaina (Tina Desai) and dreams of expanding the hotel. Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is by his side, offering stinging put-downs and succinct commentary with her characteristic panache. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) is now working as a textile supplier and fittingly, is dressed in gorgeous kurtas and shawls that will make fashionistas’ pulses flutter, regardless of how old they are. Her tentative romance with Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) is as delicately poised as it was at the end of the first film. Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is still looking for a man to marry. Adding a little American twist to the tale is Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), who comes to the hotel and immediately starts crushing on Sonny’s mum (Lilette Dubey).

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench make growing old look charming

Courtesy: Facebook, official page of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The flimsy plot of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is less a premise and more of an excuse to return to bring this group of remarkable and beloved British actors together again. Sonny needs an investor for the expansion he’s planning and so turns to an American company for help. The Americans tell him that they’ll be sending an inspector to see the property before they make their decision. So when two new guests show up at the hotel, Sonny’s nose knows one of them is the American inspector.

Meanwhile, the retired lot are working their way through their own little conflicts. Can Evelyn and Douglas take that final step to coupledom? Madge has to choose between two eligible Indian paramours. Muriel is doddering along unsteadily, but how long can her willpower trump her crumbling body?

Parker’s script is filled with is delightful banter, particularly when the lines are being delivered by Nighy, Smith and Dench. Dench and Nighy are adorable as the awkward couple, shyly tiptoeing around each other. In his sharply-tailored suits, Nighy looks dashing enough to be a romantic lead, age be damned. Dench slips in a couple of lines in Hindi and her accent is absolutely ghastly. Fortunately, she more than makes up for it with her impeccable timing and delivery in the English dialogues.

You can put most of Smith’s lines on a t-shirt, like, “I don’t do advice. I do opinion.” She’s quite obviously channelling some of the acerbic wit that she displays in Downton Abbey. It’s a neat little parallel that Smith plays a dowager countess in the television show and in The Best Exotic Marigold series, her character is a retired housekeeper — Upstairs or Downstairs, Dame Maggie Smith lords over whatever domain you give her.

Patel manages to be endearing even while coming across as entirely over the top and ridiculous. It’s evident he’s hamming, but it’s still impossible to keep a straight face when he clutches Richard Gere and calls him “a perfect specimen”.

All in all, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel reminds you of the golden age of Hollywood, when films relied upon charm and conversation, rather than action and drama, for their success. The audaciousness of this film is its modesty — it’s utterly old-fashioned and has none of the bombast that’s an integral part of blockbusters today. Instead, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is full of vintage movie magic. All it has going for it is wit and repartee. The conflicts are resolved inexplicably. The crises are not world-altering, but almost silly in their minuteness. There are no villains lurking in any corners and love is gentle, polite business.

It’s all very unspectacular, but thanks to sparkling performances by Smith, Dench and Nighy, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is just what the doctor ordered if you want a simple, feelgood film. That’s remarkable when you keep in mind that most of the characters are basically just waiting to die in this story. Yet, there’s no sadness here. At its gloomiest, a tinge of wistfulness dulls the Technicolor, Indian fantasy that Madden and his team have created. But those moments are brief and what The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel remind us is that so long as you’re alive, there’s a life to be lived and enjoyed.

Updated Date: Mar 20, 2015 11:02:37 IST