He’s her first lover post her first marriage; she tells him earnestly. Her big, beautiful 50 or 60 plus eyes couldn’t be more virginal and innocent. He smiles, ever so slightly, with a hint of a dimpled crease. Gently, he tells her, she is not his first after his ex wife but she is definitely the last one.
When silver haired, Hollywood heartthrob, Richard Gere and the talented and attractive Indian actor in a glittering orange and gold sari, Lilette Dubey, confess their feelings for each other, it would put even the most Victorian clichéd love story to shame. It might even be funny if it wasn’t for the underlying theme of deep compassion for love, loss, and loneliness in old age that runs through the overcrowded The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Plenty of subplots include an eclectic ensemble cast of Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie and Penelope Wilton amongst many more. Their practiced performances and even more predictable story lines refuse to deter the director, John Madden from over killing the cliché.
Yet, the film is surprisingly as irrepressibly sweet as its young protagonist, Sonny (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame). It is replete with clichés, scene after scene and yet, there is sufficient charm and meaning that leaves your heart as warm as home baked bread. Or hot daal baati, if you please. After all, this is a Hollywood film sequel, set in Rajasthan with an Indian, Sonny, as the central character.
Sonny is a young, sprightly, over enthusiastic lad who speaks in the most embarrassingly exaggerated Indian English and constantly oversells his hotel and hospitality, which is anything but exotic.“Why die here (abroad), when you can die there (his hotel)?” he tactlessly pitches. As the original title goes, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel(based on a book by Deborah Moggach), he runs the best place in town. Or so, he along with his aging and salty tongued co manager, (the delightful Maggie Smith) want an American hotel funding agency to believe, in the sequel.
The hotel does have its USP. It provides a second home to British pensioners so old that young Sonny takes a roll call every morning to check if they are alive. Age has been accepted and even turned into a joke at times.
In the midst of the reigning chaos in each hotel resident’s life, an American writer, Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives. Sonny suspects him to be an undercover hotel Inspector and tries to impress him. Guy in turn wants to woo Sonny’s mom(Lillete). To top it all, there is also Sonny’s own upcoming wedding. The great Indian wedding, complete with sangeet et al, is loosely used to structure the rather lengthy screenplay. No complains, though. It provides a welcome break in the form of our own Bollywood song and dance routine with songs like “Jhoom barabar jhoom” and “Yeh ishq haaye” replayed with unabashed flourish.
Downton Abbey fans may be delighted to see both Smith and Penelope Wilton appear in absolutely contrasting roles from that of the series. Wilton, especially turns a small scene into a memorable one by displaying deep vulnerability in her otherwise unpopular character as a bitter wife.
With the script as crammed as a heavy Rajasthani thaali, there is no choice but to sit back and enjoy the finer moments of engaging exchanges amongst the British characters played Smith and Dench. Like the following:
“How was America?
“It made death more tempting.”