The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The old & the beautiful

Pic Source: Wikipedia

There should be a separate genre of films called ‘heartwarming’, where we can put films like ‘We Bought a Zoo’, ‘50/50’ and ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. These films do not brush aside life’s problems but treat them in a sensitive and uplifting manner… the stories are always simple, yet touch your heart and I am not at all embarrassed to say that they make me cry. These are not depressing films and the tears are more often related to joy and the eventual triumph of the human spirit. John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one such film that is sweet, simple, heartwarming and entertaining.

The film follows seven British retirees who decide to spend their autumn years in exotic and affordable India. From a recently widowed housewife to a racist retired housekeeper; a former high court judge to a bitter couple and two old-birds in search of love and one-night stands; there are plenty of interesting characters in the film. After an eventful journey, they all land up at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, a crumbling property that is nothing like the photo-shopped images they saw online. The dilapidated hotel is run by an ambitious yet scatterbrained manager cum owner, Sonny (Dev Patel) who has this interesting business plan of outsourcing retirement.

Written by Ol Parker, the film has a stellar cast comprising of some of the finest British actors including Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup. Needless to say, they all are fabulous and each one has a touching story. However, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith steal the show. Dev Patel has the required energy but his accent distracts from his ‘Indian’ character. Tena Desae plays Sonny’s love interest, Sunaina, a confident girl who works in a call centre and Lillete Dubey plays his mother.

The film exaggerates and exploits all clichés about India but then you must remember that the film is from the point of view of British retirees. Riot of colours, beggars, rickety bus rides, Indians using incorrect English (and interestingly street urchins talking in British accent)… all this and more, the film packs a lot of real and imaginary India. Some of it may irritate you but if you look past all this, it is an interestingly presented film. Cinematography by Ben Davis is beautiful and he uses the typical exotic India imagery to the fullest. Music by Thomas Newman is also like those documentaries on India we get to see on Nat Geo and Discovery; but again it does create the desired effect.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a simple film with plenty of emotions and Rajasthan tourism brochure as the background. Watch it if you enjoy crying at the movies.

Raajneeti

 

Lust, Power & Deceit

Pic: Raajneeti; Source: Wikipedia

It is one of the greatest stories ever told and writer-director, Prakash Jha along with co-writer, Anjum Rajabali manages to narrate it again in a fascinating manner. Raajneeti takes its inspiration from Mahabharat and the current state of politics in India; from caste based politics to dynastic rule to horse-trading, the film touches upon a lot of issues. Having said that, Raajneeti is not a boring issue based film but a riveting drama-cum-thriller.  At 2 hours 45 minutes, the film moves at a breakneck pace from the word go, only faltering towards the end. You can predict what is going to happen overall but the clever screenplay still manages to surprise you with sudden twists.

Raajneeti is not about the battle between the good and the evil; it is about the lust for power and how far people can go for it. The first half of the film is taut while the second half has a lot of ups and downs as the director tries to pack in a lot. Those looking for the Gandhi family saga will be disappointed as the film only borrows the dynastic politics theme from the family and Katrina’s look from Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

The real winner in the film is its characterisation; there are no heroes or villains but strong characters that are superbly written and enacted (barring a couple). Nana Patekar makes an impressive comeback with a restrained yet powerful performance (no banging his head business happening here); while Ranbir Kapoor once again proves that he is going to rule the Hindi film industry in the years to come. Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee and Ajay Devgn, all deliver impressive performances along with Katrina Kaif who fits in the character well with her accent. Special mention for Shruti Seth who manages to shine in a brief role that is completely new to her sensibilities. Nikhila Trikha whose character is inspired by ‘Kunti’ from Mahabharat seems uncomfortable in her role as she is supposed to be at least 20 years older than her real age. In one of the critical scenes towards the climax, her exchange with Ajay’s character is actually funny, while it was supposed to be an emotional one. One actor who didn’t get his due in the film is Naseeruddin Shah who has a guest appearance like role but was promoted like one of the leads.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I have one issue with the script; there is just too much violence as if the police and the judiciary do not exist. It would have been more interesting to see further Machiavellian mind-games and attacks rather than shootouts and bomb blasts. The production design is quite elaborate and you get to see palatial political homes to rallies with thousands of extras braving the heat and dust. Sachin Krishn’s cinematography is impressive and Santosh Mandal’s editing could have been a bit better in the second half. Thankfully, the songs are mostly in the background and do not hamper the narrative except one silly item song featuring Barkha Bisht (why, Mr. Jha, why?) that lasts around a minute only. ‘Mora Piya…’ composed by Aadesh Srivastava and ‘Dhan Dhan Dharti…’ composed by Wayne Sharpe on Vande Mataram theme are two songs to remember.

Raajneeti may not be Prakash Jha’s best work (my favourite is Gangajal) but is definitely his biggest and most commercial film. With the film getting a good opening at the box office, I sincerely hope that we’d get to see more political films in India. Since we are talking politics, my favourite film on the subject is Mani Ratnam’sIruvar’ (The Duo) (1997, Tamil), which was based on the lives of Tamil Nadu politicians, M. G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi. The film bombed at the box office but is considered a masterpiece amongst film lovers. If you haven’t watched it, do try to find a DVD (it is difficult to find one with subtitles, but a big DVD store can get it for you on order. In Mumbai, try Landmark at Palladium); till then do catch Raajneeti on the big screen… it is worth a watch.

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal