After watching the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you might well be tempted to pack up your bags and go to India. But would it be the right destination for you?
I love India. I've travelled there four times over the last few years. On my first visit I arrived on a misty night with extremely low visibility. On the way to the hotel from Delhi airport a cow was suddenly caught in the headlights of the taxi. It looked like a ghostly apparition.
I almost screamed but the cow didn’t faze the driver at all as he swerved his way around her. I soon learnt that as cows are sacred creatures they are free to roam the roads and always have right of way. It was the beginning of a fascinating journey with my daughter around Rajasthan.
The 17th century historic palace hotel that was temporarily transformed into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is actually in North West Rajasthan. But many of the location shots were filmed in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Jaipur is known as the pink city because in 1853 the whole city was repainted in pink as an extravagant royal welcome for the Prince of Wales.
The movie was never intended to be about the beauty of Jaipur’s museums, palaces and gardens. The actors don’t visit the famous city sights like the Palace of the Winds or mount regally decorated elephants to take a slow ride up to the Amber Fort as tourists do.
It’s the story of how a group of British pensioners, who have unexpectedly fallen upon hard times or feel unfulfilled take a daring leap into the unknown and retire to a more exotic and affordable location to put their lives back together.
On arrival the supposedly grand hotel they had expected turns out to be dilapidated, with leaky taps, nonfunctional telephones, some doorless rooms and plumbing problems. It does have a very charming but inefficient young man as a manager (who also starred in Slum Dog Millionaire.)
How could they have been so deceived? As one of the guests said "The hotel was obviously Photoshopped before being posted on the Internet."
Nevertheless the star studded cast has no choice but to move in. They initially find Jaipur overwhelming but gradually make friendships, search out new opportunities and are transformed by their experiences of a new culture. For most of them, the tide turns in their favour and by the end of the movie their lives have taken a turn for the better.
It’s a feel good movie with plenty of humour. And it’s also refreshing to see a movie in which the stars sport a few wrinkles (well actually more than a few in some cases)
On a deeper level it makes you think that when you get old, even if life deals you a lemon, you can still take a risk, fall in love or start a new job. At least give it a try advises Judi Dench. If you don’t try you can’t win.
The two outstanding performances were by Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. At the beginning of the movie Maggie Smith is a whinging pain ridden old woman waiting for a hip replacement which is successfully done in India. Her racist one liners are so over the top they are hilarious. But against expectations she manages to embrace her new life, adopt a more positive attitude to Indian people and to use her talents to her best advantage.
Judi Dench plays the part of a woman who is recently widowed. After forty years of a meaningless marriage to a husband who mismanaged their financial affairs she heads to Jaipur, lands herself a job at a call centre and is open to a new relationship. In her late seventies now, she manages to look both amazingly demure and seductive riding sidesaddle on the back of a motorbike.
So if you have troubles should you pack them up and go and live in a faded but grand hotel in Jaipur?
"I think of India as a Marmite destination, you either love it or hate it, but there's an awful lot to love" said Tanya Dalton, a director of Greaves Travel when interviewed by the Guardian about the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
My partner is not a big fan of India. He’s been once and for him that was enough. The dirt, the chaos on the roads and the crumbling monuments were not for him.
I love it there so would encourage you to go. But it’s worth knowing that water and power shortages are a fact of life in Rajasthan. So you do need to learn how to go with the flow. Don’t let a shower head which trickles rather than pours, or the occasional power cut faze you.
Seeing young children and mothers with babies begging in the streets can also be very disturbing and will pull at your heartstrings. It makes all your troubles pale by comparison.
Look beyond the negatives and you will find a vibrant India which is exciting and different. The spicy food, beautiful fabrics, street markets, and much incredible art and architecture will re- energize and excite you and may well make you feel (as the manager of the hotel keeps saying) that "Everything will be alright in the end, and if it's not alright, it won't be the end."