“Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”
—Sonny (Dev Patel), in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
What a delight! The more you’ve traveled in developing countries, the more you will relate to this charming and yet deeply socially conscious movie (I have not been to India, but I found that my experiences in Latin America—and particularly Mexico—made it very easy to relate to the characters and their adventures.)
First off, it’s an excellent window on India—not the glitzy and modern upper-class Mumbai or Delhi of so many Bollywood movies, but the noisy, colorful, aromatic and yes, gritty reality of the working classes and poor of a less touristed Indian city (Jaipur). Yes, pretty much every one has a mobile phone, the hotel owner has a computer (a very ancient one), and three of the characters work at an Internet customer service company. Yet feels like an India pretty much unaffected by rapid technological change, and I found that quite charming.
Second, it’s another terrific performance by Dev Patel (you’ll recognize him; he played the lead in “Slumdog Millionaire”), this time as the eternally optimistic keeper of the decrepit rusk of a hotel that he’s trying to reinvent as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful.”
We get to follow his first group of guests, a diverse bunch of aging Brits with a big range of reasons for making the trip. Some wholeheartedly embrace the adventure, one hides from it, and one enters the tableaux as an anti-black, anti-Indian racist who only crossed continents to get a faster and much less expensive hip replacement. Love interests and friendships spring up all over the place, including one traveler’s search for his long-lost male lover from 40 years earlier.
Besides the exotic travel and romantic comedy aspects, the movie addresses many issues at play in both India and the West: untouchability, arranged marriages versus love relationships, the economic collapse, same-sex relationships, racism, poverty, the place of secrets versus sharing in a relationship, cultural immersion versus tourism, family dynamics, and rose-colored-glasses optimism versus “business reality.”