The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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With the huge (and initially, surprising) success of John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it wouldn’t take the keen insight of the Weinstein brothers to realize that a sequel might also prove to be a goldmine.

But it can be so tricky, the second time around, can’t it – to rekindle the chemistry among the actors and reignite the elements that sparked so well the first time around.

Now eight months on since the conclusion of the first film, Fox Searchlight’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel shows us that those relocated Brits (all minus two of the original gang) have settled in comfortably to their Rajasthani residence, and the owner, young Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) is in California with his co-manager, making a pitch for funding for a second hotel. Not only are the original residents enjoying India, they all seem to be gainfully employed as well. Who knew that there was a reverse-H1B programme for OAPs?

By the way, if you haven’t seen the first film, there’s no real preamble in this one to get you up to speed (other than a bit of a voiceover at the start) or to give you any hint as to who’s who and how all these English people ended up living in the same place in India, so be advised.  The first film was joyful and exuberant.  I highly recommend it!

The once vinegar-dipped former xenophobe with a heart of gold, Muriel Donnelly (aka The Dowager Countess, Dame Maggie Smith, minus the bony corsets and frou-frou hats) is the co-manager of the hotel, Evelyn Greenslade (Dame Judi Dench) has gotten into the international schmatte trade and is poised for a big promotion, her spindly would-be suitor Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) is an ersatz tour guide at the local sights in Jaipur, and Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup), the lustiest pair at the hotel (though not with each other) are both running the local Viceroy Club. It seems like rather a stretch of our suspension of disbelief that this many foreigners in one place would all find work so quickly, but ok, this isn’t a documentary, I’ll play along….

Muriel smiling

So yes, they’ve gotten the old gang back together, while also adding a few new people to the mix: Guy Chambers, played by the much-touted now silver fox, Richard Gere (who, after l’Affaire Shetty must have been on a personal space lockdown, lest he inflame any more local sentiment, by, say, suddenly smooching the lovely Tina Desai without any warning or prior approval), and British actress Tamsin Greig as Lavinia.

The effervescent, seemingly super-caffeinated Sonny Kapoor is again played by the so-very-likeable and bright-eyed Dev Patel, this time with a more prominent role (and, I believe, higher billing), along with Tina Desai, returning as the self-assured and very pretty Sunaina, Sonny’s fiancée.  (To judge by recent red carpet photos of him, it looks like our little boy Dev is growing up – but more on that later…)

It was good to be reacquainted with the characters we met in the first film, and see how happy they are, no one showing pangs of longing for the cooler climes, grey skies and Hobnobs they left behind.  They all seemed to have quite effortlessly melded with their surroundings, and for the cinema-goer, India is presented in a positive way. If we laugh at any of the characters, it’s because of their unfamiliarity with their surroundings, not because we are laughing at India, or the ideas of India that we may have. That said, I did feel that we saw a one or two elephants too many this time around. Are there really that many roaming the streets of Rajasthan? (It’s one part of India I’ve never been to, so I can’t say from experience.)  Maybe there are lots of them about, given what a tourist draw it is…

Following on that thought, if you will permit me a girly aside, I absolutely loved the Indian-influenced clothes that were provided for the English actresses. Louise Stjernsward, the costume designer, took advantage of the excess of beautiful patterns, textures and colors that is so delightfully overwhelming in India, and used them to make some gorgeous, flattering and age-appropriate ensembles for the women (so, no, none of the ladies were swaddled in nine yards of kanjeevaram or flounced up in a voluminous anarkali, and just as well).  It almost goes without saying that the two Indian women in the cast looked appropriately lovely too.  I would happily watch a fashion show of nothing Lillete Dubey cloned 20 times over, wearing sari after sari after sari.

But it’s not all sunshine and light.   I did feel this film moved at a slower pace than the first one, and struggled at times to keep all the threads moving forward, especially since there’s no Big Problem or Big Question to be addressed, as there had been first time around (Will the group remain in Jaipur? Will the hotel would survive or will it flounder?)

I know that the upcoming marriage of Sonny and Sunaina (the three parts of which – the engagement ceremony, the mehendi party, and the actual saat phere – serve as the frame for the story) is supposed to be in peril every few scenes, with Sonny feeling threatened and thwarted by the return of a handsome, wealthy childhood nemesis of sorts, but I don’t think anyone at the screening I attended ever once entertained the possibility that the engagement would fall through.

group at wedding

So, lacking that doubt, instead, we’re all left with a collection of small questions: will Evelyn and Douglas get together and declare their love for each other? (And why exactly is Evelyn having so many doubts?)  Will Madge choose this wealthy older Indian gent or that one, and be happy with her choice? Will Sonny get the funding for a second hotel? Will The Widow Kapoor fall for Guy Chambers (well, duh, that’s a no-brainer!)

Mrs Kapoor and Guy

In the end, it felt like the director was one of those dog-walkers you see all over Manhattan, with both hands grasping the leashes of a pack of 10 or more dogs of all different sizes as they stride forth together in harmonious unison down Fifth Avenue – except in this case it was a less graceful and much more strenuous effort to keep the whole enterprise in fluid, forward motion.

And then, there is the ending of the film, which builds to a crescendo of the wedding (for which the infectious title song from the film Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was resuscitated – hurray!) I get what they were trying to do – with the whole circle-of-life, sunrise-sunset-swiftly-flow-the-years business – but at first blush, it felt muddled in how it was handled, and frankly, made me sad. I’ll have to watch the film a second time to see if it still strikes me that way.

Final thoughts

Even with these complaints, I wouldn’t have missed the sequel. When do you see so many great actors in one ensemble and a beautiful locale having such obvious fun? When do you see such a positive portrayal of what life during the retirement years can look like? When do we get to see Lillete Dubey in a non-Indian film? Not often enough! I wish we’d see her in more, and not only as a Mummy-ji (albeit one who lets her hair down and enjoys unmarried carnal pleasures with the likes of Richard Gere.)

Even with its imperfections, I would recommend The Second Best Marigold Hotel; the warmth of it will help you thaw out during these final days of what has been a very long winter.

One thought on “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

  1. Your dog walker comment made me laugh out loud as it is so spot on. Sequels are a tricky thing, indeed.

    I wouldn’t have missed this movie either as I so enjoyed the first movie, and I saw it last night with a friend. We both came away disappointed. I felt Dev Patel was rather shrill, but I did love Lillete Dubey and Richard Gere together. It just didn’t seem to have the same oomph or punch of the first movie somehow, but I still enjoyed seeing all these actors assembled together again in such a beautiful setting.

    Also agree with you about the multiple elephant shots — really? They’re walking down the street all over town?

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