Is it Award season yet? According to Participant Media and Image Nation (The Help, Contagion) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it may very well be.
As initial impressions go “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” now playing in screens across Pakistan, dupes you into thinking that we’re right in the middle of Oscar season. But since it is May, running into June — the annual slot often allocated for meatier and rowdier blockbusters — one is involuntary compelled to mull over Fox Searchlight’s decision to slide this British comedy-drama in the midst of a season whose target audience cares for fares that needlessly warrant a pricier 3D tag in cinemas.
John Madden’s (Shakespeare in Love and the outstanding Proof) slight piece of heaven has Dev Patel from "Slumdog Millionaire" back again in India. This time he’s Sonny Kapoor and the locale is a less crammed Jaipur. Sonny is desperately trying to resuscitate his dead father’s tumble-downed hotel, whose lodgers of late have been pigeons, peeling plaster and permanent patches of moss on the walls.
He has a sober-looking yet sexually liberated girlfriend (Sunaina, Tena Desae) who works as an offshore telemarketing agent. She’s someone mommy dearest (Lillete Dubey) would never approve, even though the two have never met.
Sonny’s story is borderline McGuffin, that’s less significant than Jaipur itself. We never feel for the Indian characters, and they serve as a sort of window dressing for the film’s actual stars: the Brits; and what star power these people wield. In roll-call they are: Judi Dench (cast as Muriel), Maggie Smith (Muriel), Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton (Douglas and Jean Ainslie), Tom Wilkinson (Graham Dashwood), Celia Imrie(Madge Hardcastle) and Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins).
This vintage collection of British retirees are in India because of the worldwide cash-crunch; here the Forex conversation makes them slightly less than millionaires (although, one may never guess that from their low-brow attires and lifestyles).
Individually their back stories go like this: Evelyn has been forced to sell her London flat. Muriel is xenophobic but needs a speedy (and cheap) hip surgery. Douglas and Anne are nearly bankrupt thanks to their daughters failed internet company (they’re also at the end of a marriage gone stale).
Graham, now a retired high court judge, was raised here once upon a youth; he’s now back to reconcile with his long lost love, a friend who he’s lost contact with when they shipped him off to England. Celia has an opening for a husband.Norman’s need is simpler; he would be content with a one-night stand.
In, what I consider Madden’s craftiest aesthetic decision (and the film’s screenplay, written by Ol Parker based on the novel “These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach”): he cuts the cast loose with minimalistic cinematic flare. Their stories, although trifling and conventional, lack of duplicity. There’s an odd note of finely calibrated feel-good, sentimental insistence in the interwoven screenplay which runs 30 minutes too long. While you don’t feel the drain straightaway, the result makes itself apparent when the film makes its way into the third act. Marigold, although nested on its brilliantly cast, needed a quicker resolution to a foreordained end. Otherwise, it’s almost perfect for the Oscar rush this October.
But Oscar or no Oscar, there just may be a Bafta or two in its future for sure.