India confounds, fascinates stars of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

India confounds, fascinates stars of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Cast: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Dev Patel
Director: John Madden

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which opens May 4, 2012 in the United States and May 18, 2012 in India, is the kind of movie that will either make you want to book the next flight to India or never set foot in the country.

It stands out from other Hollywood pictures set in India like City of Joy and Slumdog Millionaire, which focus on the country's poverty, violence and gangs. Marigold takes a much lighter, almost comical view on life in India, but it doesn't stint on the crowds and the chaos.

The movie's premier at the Ziegfeld Theater on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City last week included some of the movie's biggest stars, including Judi Dench, and a sizable contingent of Indian-American actors who were not in the movie, including Pooja Kumar, Meetu Chilana and Samrat Chakrabarti.

The story, based on the novel These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach, follows a group of seven retirees from Britain who all independently hear of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, and picture a lavish place to spend their post-working years. When they actually arrive in India, however, they find a crumbling building.

A powerhouse cast of British actors, including Judi Dench, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith, play the residents. Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame has the role of the hotel owner, Sonny Kapoor, who delivers the line "In India, we have a saying: Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end." The director is John Madden, best known for Shakespeare in Love, which won an Oscar for Best Picture.



Although the film is set in Jaipur, only a few scenes were actually filmed there. Most of the movie was shot in Udaipur, including the fictional Marigold Hotel, which is a building just outside the city.

Only two of the British actors had ever been to India before the nine-and-a-half-week shoot, (even the director Mr. Madden had not), so most of them were in the same situation as the characters they play: they were newcomers to the India and each had their unique impressions of the country.

During a recent visit to New York to promote the film, they discussed their impressions.

Ms. Wilton, who plays a grumpy housewife, Jean, said that she found the country extraordinary and is looking forward to going again, especially to the south. Ms. Dench, who played a widow, Evelyn, said that although she never had the desire to visit India, she was instantly fascinated and bewitched when she landed there. "My character in the movie says that India is an assault on the senses, and it's true," she said. "The beauty of the people was astounding as were the colors, the noises, the smells."

Mr. Wilkinson, acting in the role of High Court Judge Graham, who comes to India to find his former male lover, was slightly more disturbed by his time there. "It was one of the most brain-curdling experiences I've had, and I have never quite fully recovered," he said. "You could never get used to the fact that you would see a woman washing her baby in a puddle and then such extreme wealth 50 yards away."

© 2012, The New York Times News Service
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