The first thing that struck me while watching The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is what Dev Patel started bringing into the film. He was enjoying being the talkative, messed-up owner of a hotel celebrating his crooked sense-of-humour, that’s probably as good as him,haphazard as Richard Gere in the film puts it, but bound by a matchless affection for his customers, helping him get away with it all. There was some desperation in the eyes of the actor to get his part right and his efforts don’t fail him. A flabbergasting cast and you expect a film with a solid emotional conflict your way but it celebrates its humanistic instincts, little pleasures and also the inconsistencies more.
It’s only a thin line that separates the problems from the strengths of the film. As I was introduced to each of the characters and their traits, the most impressive of them being that of the typical no-nonsense Maggie Smith, playing Muriel Donnelly, the grandmotherly figure of the hotel, things started getting rather too obvious with their immediate moves. They try hard to escape from their problems, know what they want, lose their way and find answers yet again. Just as the taxi-driver on the road puts it to his foreign customer, ” When you toss a coin, you pretty much know which of the sides do you want. Why bother tossing? ” (not sure if those were the words, but the essence is summed up here) This is not the case with one, but all the four threads whose parallel narratives still make for a juicy watch.
I wasn’t getting immediately conscious of the country’s portrayal amidst all this. But, these aspects, I just couldn’t resist from mentioning. The background scores bring in a rich mix of the tabla and mrindangam with intermittent Hindustani alaapana’s by Hariharan. There’s a Balma, a Yeh Ishq Hai Yeh and a Jhoom Barabar Jhoom playing in the roads, weddings and I wasn’t disappointed with the selection.The visuals are more of an attempt to catch up with the colours, noises and the lives of the lower middle-class. There’s a lot of Jaipur and Mumbai, from the forts to the beaches, the buzz of the urbanites. I got to hear things like, “There’s nothing like an Indian welcome.” But, in all, it didn’t matter, because the film in itself was a tribute to touristic perceptions about a new place that also happens to be a new home for them. I really had a good-long laugh, when Judi Dench is described a ‘gori bhains’ (white buffalo) by a clothing-firm owner, not because of the offensiveness of the term, but with his assurance that she won’t get it.
But, time and again, the film worked for me because of Maggie Smith, right from the start where she’s tired of putting her tea bag in hot water to sip tea. In a conversation with Judi Dench, where the latter says, “You’re older to me by just 19 days,”. She, unfettered, replies with a sense of arrogance, “That’s the lifetime of a wasp my friend.” “Just that I sit in front of you doesn’t mean I’m listening anything,”she utters in response to a lady, who accompanies her to a doctor-visit. There’s an element of pain, when she describes a wedding and in spite of all the audacity-show she puts up, the beautiful lines she gets, especially, the day of the wedding, how loneliness affects her and the equation she shares with people, sums up her mindset. Meanwhile, the insecurities of a Dev Patel, ably supported by Tina Desai is the only part that has an adrenaline rush to it. There are at least traces of some tension. Otherwise, the film is too comfortable with its leisurely focus on human moments and, mostly, with half-baked portions of the tourist-guide, I pretty much saw what was coming my way.
The diversity of the simultaneous nature of the relationships, where one of them is leading to a marriage but yet is in doldrums, another where they just need more time to be together, also one where one of them is cheating on the other besides the track, that closely resembles Govinda’s portions in Salaam E Ishq, there’s a sense of incompleteness. The new couple is starting a journey and the elders are nearing their end, but also embarking on a new journey.There goes another wonderful line to sum it all, “The difference between what you love and what you fear is a whisker.” For all its troubles to stay soulful and remain a sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is like an average human, more imperfections and complaints than things to appreciate, but that’s the beauty of it all.