The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

JAMIE MATHIESON may be a walking stereotype, but he ain’t got nothing on this movie.

arts students bill nighy Dev Patel Film gap-year india Jamie Mathieson john madden Judi Dench stereotypes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Tom Wilkinson

Directed by John Madden

[rating: 2/5]

I found this film pretty embarrassing, and not just because I went to see a midday matinee by myself and was the only person in the cinema under sixty. Oh yes, being Tab Film Editor is just that glamorous.

I found it embarrassing on two levels: let’s call them macro and micro. (I’m an arts student, by the way, in case you couldn’t tell from me having time to go the cinema during the day.)

Firstly, the macro level: I had made a mental checklist of the most inevitable and boring stereotypes about India, and it ticked almost every single one: elephants at the side of the road, bad driving, call centres, ‘contrasts’, ‘modern’ (meaning capitalist) India vs. ‘traditional’ (meaning Hindu) India, arranged marriages vs. true love, the Kama Sutra, the ambiguous head wobble, bureaucracy, goat curry, diarrhoea. The only one missing was traffic being blocked by a nonchalant cow.

The film is about the cast of Gosford Park moving to a hotel for old people in India and finding (or losing) themselves and/or significant others. The hotel is run by the guy from Slumdog Millionaire, because they needed an Indian face Westerners would recognise and Ben Kingsley is too old.

Every one of our actors are absolute pros who do a perfectly decent job despite being, especially in the case of Judi Dench, egregiously, horribly, appallingly miscast. I would bet my student loan on Helen Mirren having been the first choice. The blossoming romance between Dame Judi and Bill Nighy is the most implausible thing I have ever seen on screen.

Wear a helmet, Dev!

So much about the film is implausible. It’s implausible that the drivers of cycle-rickshaws, earning two dollars a day if they’re lucky, would speak flawless English. It’s implausible that Dev Patel and his girlfriend would suck each other’s faces in the middle of the street.

It’s implausible that no-one sweats at any point. It’s implausible that an initially promising plot about Tom Wilkinson’s mysterious past would have such a cop-out ending, although it’s got nothing on the deus ex machina which resolves the true love/arranged marriage dilemma and almost made me walk out the cinema.

But – and here’s the micro-embarassment – it is plausible that our fictional characters and our very much not fictional director and screenwriters would approach India in such a superficial and prejudiced way. Because I did it too.

Having spent four months in India in 2008, my toes curled whenever Judi Dench narrated her blog home (“Day 51: some people here are quite poor, apparently”), because I did exactly that too. Everyone does, just like everyone does actually get Delhi belly, and there are actually elephants at the side of the road and people do drive comically unsafely. At least, as Westerners perceive them.

This would be the place to talk about Edward Said, but despite being an arts student I haven’t properly read Orientalism because instead of spending my days in the library I’m going to matinees at the Picturehouse. What’s the funny thing about stereotypes? Ah yes. They’re usually at least partly true.