Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review of The Bext Exotic Marigold Hotel

I saw "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (TBEMH) today at Castle Hill Megaplex and quite liked it.

There are lots of reviews on the web that will give you the basic plot and a sketch of the main characters, so I won't repeat all that here. I'll talk about some overall impressions and general thoughts.

Having a foot in both worlds (India and the West), I think the film has dealt very sympathetically with the theme of people struggling to adapt to a changing world. Sometimes the audience is meant to empathise (as with the recent widow dealing with an unfeeling, robotic call centre operator) and sometimes meant to look on in vengeful glee (as with the racist patient who insists on being seen only by an "English" (i.e., Caucasian) doctor and doesn't seem to find a single one in modern Britain). The storyline isn't always believable, but even the cliches and the semi-predictable twists have their purpose, to illustrate some idea or the other. As long as we take them in that spirit, we can tolerate the lack of realism.

No Western reviewer is likely to pick up on the following, so I should do so.

* Dev Patel's accent and tortured English phraseology are very unnatural, although mildly amusing.
* Brothers wouldn't be quite as relaxed about their sisters' boyfriends, I would imagine. I'm thinking bash-up posse.
* Indian couples don't kiss in public, and definitely not in a Tier II city like Jaipur, unless India has changed in the 15 years I've been away!
* Pre-marital sex is taken a bit too casually by all concerned, unless India has changed in the 15 years I've been away. I have heard things about call centres...
* Again with the untouchability. I want to know if Indians still fail to even acknowledge Dalits, as the movie seems to say. It was a bit of deliberate irony to show the over-the-top racist character as the only one who treated the Dalit woman as a human being.
* It appears you can't have a British movie without some homosexuality in it. Their version of a masala movie, I guess - something for everyone. And that's another thing that Indians are shown as being unrealistically relaxed about, unless (you know the drill by now) India has changed in the 15 years I've been away.
* Indians don't speak to each other in English as much as this movie shows, and definitely not in a Tier II city like Jaipur. Some Hindi dialogues with subtitles wouldn't have been out of place. But that's a very minor nitpick.
* An Indian in a club brutally exposes a character's attempted masquerade as Princess Margaret. Indians don't confront issues as pointedly as that. That's more of a Western trait.
* I'm sure most educated Indians know what "dunking" a biscuit means.
* This comment is definitely tongue-in-cheek, but after Chalte Chalte and now TBEMH, I wouldn't trust Lilette Dubey around young lovers. She's a known spoiler.

There was an Australian movie a couple of years ago ("The Waiting City") that dealt with a related theme, that of an Australian couple with unresolved relationship issues who travel to Kolkata (Calcutta) to adopt a child. That was nice too, although a bit sad.

All in all, TBEMH wasn't bad as a movie, but I suspect the idea (of elderly and financially hard-up Brits spending their retirement in India) wouldn't really work. India is a hard country to live in, and one needs money, contacts and sharp elbows to survive. For people triply softened by age, vulnerable finances and little prior exposure to chaotic systems, I believe it would be very hard. Heck, I doubt if *I* could survive there anymore. The makers of the movie have been very politically correct, I must say.
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