Earlier this week, I had a chance to attend the red carpet premiere of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in New York City. To be honest, I have not seen the original (blame my being busy with law school for that!), and I’ve also never been to India. Nevertheless, I love movies, so couldn’t resist checking this one out. Plus, I was curious to see if the sequel would make sense without having seen the first one – and thankfully it did! In a way, I’m really glad I saw the second one before the original as my mind was untainted. Without having seen the first, I was able to take in the grandeur of the film and the story for what it was, without having to compare it to what came before. Still, my expectations were high for the movie as it boasts of an incredible cast – Maggie Smith (Muriel Donnelly) Judi Dench (Evelyn Greenslade), Richard Gere (Guy Chambers), Lillette Dubey (Mrs. Kapoor), Bill Nighy (Douglas Ainslie), Dev Patel (Sonny Kapoor), Tina Desai (Sunaina), Celia Imrie (Madge Hardcastle), Shazad Latif (Kushal), Penelope Wilton (Jean Ainslie), Ronald Pickup (Norman Cousins), and David Strathairn (Ty Burley). Thankfully, my expectations were met and I was impressed by the film.
Present at the premiere were Judi Dench (and yes, she looks just as regal in person!), Richard Gere (he waved at me, which was pretty awesome, and he looks better in person!), Tina Desai, Dev Patel, and director John Madden. Their presence at the event truly made the event more memorable. Though for me, it was doubly memorable because a couple people thought I acted in the movie! I’m flattered at that, but hey, maybe if they make the Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I’ll snag a cameo (hint hint, John Madden!) Jokes aside, before I get into my review itself, I really want to thank the employees and staff at the Zeigfeld Theater for being so wonderful and helpful! The weather was horrible the day of the premiere with snow, sleet, and unshoveled paths, but a guard outside offered me his umbrella to stand under, and one guard even walked me to the door! Also, I made a lot of new friends, which seemed to reflect the theme of the film – at least what I perceived the theme to be – i.e. life is short, relationships matter, and live in the moment.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes place a little while after the first one left off. Having created a successful hotel, Sonny Kapoor (played by Dev Patel), makes plans to buy out another hotel. In this film too, he is an eccentric and awkward individual, but has a heart of gold. He and Muriel (played by Maggie Smith), the manager of the hotel (who is also a mentor to him) try to convince some American investors to contribute financially to his new venture. It is a testament to their acting talent how effortlessly Patel and Smith were able to show the strength of the bond between their characters. Dev Patel seems a lot more comfortable on screen than in his prior roles. He played the character with just the right amount of effervescence, without making the character annoying. One feels empathy for his character, and one can’t help but hope all works out for him. He has some very funny lines in the film, but there is also a more serious side to his character. In this film, Sonny has to balance trying to establish a new hotel along with managing marriage plans. His jealousy of Sunaina’s friend Kushal provides for some very comic moments, as he sees Kushal as a threat both to his business and love life. The scene when Sunaina and Sonny skype each other, and she and Kushal show him the dance they have to do at the wedding is one of the funniest moments in the film.
Maggie Smith is the stand out in the film. She captures her character perfectly with her ascerbic speech and demeanor – which is evident from the very first scene when she goes into a rant about how people don’t know how to brew tea properly in America. Without her in the movie, it is unlikely it would have left as strong of an impact. Her character’s journey is relatable to both young (through her mentor-type relationship with Sonny) and older audiences (as she embraces old age). Her scenes with Judi Dench were quite funny, and the friendship between their characters seemed more real due to the actresses good rapport. Richard Gere and Judi Dench both did a great job with the film. Gere still exuded the charm of a younger man, and the chemistry between him and Lillete Dubey’s character was great. She is one of the few Indian actresses who can feature in a Hollywood movie as her acting style is more suited to the natural performance style necessary in films here.
The comedy that ensues due to Patel’s character thinking Gere is a hotel inspector is a driving force in the movie. The storyline is very reminiscent of an episode of the British series Fawlty Towers where Basil mistakes a guest as an inspector. That aspect of the storyline will especially resonate well with lovers of British television and culture. As for Tina Desai, she didn’t have much of a role in the film except to help further the wedding-storyline between her character and Dev Patel’s, but she did an okay job with what she had. She has the potential to grow as an actor.
As for the direction (John Madden) and cinematography (Ben Smithard), it was really well filmed. The way the scenes were cut, the way the rhythm and motion of India translated to the big screen, and the colors of the film completely embodied India. Moreover, the film had the right amount of humor and drama. Ol Parker did an excellent job with the screenplay. With such heavyweight actors in the film, there is no doubt it must have been a challenge writing the screenplay to ensure each got a meaty part. Parker achieved perfection with the screenplay as each character is an essential cog in the storyline. Additionally, the film perfectly blended a Hollywood movie with Bollywood culture. The Bollywood songs that were used in the film also resonated well with the audience. People were actually dancing in their seats! It was a strong reminder that Bollywood has now pervaded all aspects of society.
The movie reveals a series of contrasts – between life and death, love and jealousy, and the struggles of youth and struggles of old age. It teaches us that life is always filled with lessons, but we have to be receptive to them. “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a rare gem as it connects with any audience. No matter what age one is, and no matter if one has seen the first film or not, this film is extremely enjoyable, humorous, and really touching. The cinematography is flawless and one feels as though they are a part of the story. It is at true feel-good movie, and leaves one wanting to return for more viewings! The film is officially out as of March 8, 2015. So, if you haven’t seen the film yet, do check it out! I highly recommend checking into this hotel at the nearest theater to you!