Like most sequels, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is best enjoyed by those who have seen the first. But then again, that isn’t saying much at all. Again, like most sequels. So, in that sense, the title is a give away — it is second best.
The first film came with a novel idea: that of a group of Britishers duped by a charming hotelier, Sonny (Dev Patel), into outsourcing their retirement to his property in India that is more a building under construction than a hotel. During the film, you begin to care for its main characters, chiefly Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy), and Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith). There are a whole host of other Britishers too, who are trying to find their foot in the country, even as they grapple with the realisation that the other is in the grave.
The chief problem with the sequel is that everybody’s trying to get paired off. There’s nothing wrong with the idea that septuagenarians can achieve happiness through a relationship, but surely there are other ways too, especially for the elderly, people who have arguably been at the receiving end of many a relationship gone sour. Every person, including Sonny’s mother (Lillette Dubey) and the new ‘kid’ on the block, Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), is in search of a partner. After a while, you have so many characters in search of somebody to spend whatever little of their remaining life with — you have a taxi driver who grabs love at the first opportunity, a two-timer who isn’t sure who she should marry (Celia Imrie), an unfaithful partner who assumes her partner’s doing the same (Diana Hardcastle), and the list goes on. The encompassing love story is, of course, of Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai). It is all quite tiresome, and that’s one of the reasons the terrific Maggie Smith stands out as Muriel — her pursuits are different. As she says, “I barely found a bugger I could spend a week with.”
The wit and humour of the first film is very much the strength of this sequel too, especially the dialogues of Sonny, who after looking at Mr. Chambers the first time, wryly says, “The man has me urgently questioning my masculinity.” Dev Patel gets plenty of wordy, funny lines that he delivers with impeccable timing and British nonchalance, and is the backbone of this film too.
The sequel lacks a new conceit to give it its unique identity. Having various characters mouth one aphorism after another isn’t it. Even the taxi driver who suddenly turns philosophical and says, “Some you win, my lady, and some you learn.” After a while, you’re reminded of your wise, old grandma who spouts advice whether you care to listen or not. Here, again, Muriel comes out trumps as she says, “My advice is to never give advice.”
But what the film undoubtedly is, is a great advertisement for India. There isn’t one negative Indian character that matters. Even the obsequious protagonist Sonny, who doesn’t mind pimping out his own mother to achieve his ends, isn’t painted as a bad guy; quite the contrary.
The film is almost apologetic in how it tries to paint a romanticised image of the country and its people. Taxi drivers are polite and well-spoken, goodhearted roadside vendors go out of their way to help, and nobody seems to judge, even when old people are hitting on each other. Where is this Marigold Hotel really? I’d like to go.