The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Indian Grape Raita

Year Released: 2012
Directed by: John Madden
Starring: Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy
(PG-13, 124 min.)

"The past, the present, and the future are really one. They are today." Harriet Beecher Stowe

I’ll have to give this film a D, not just one, but three . It is absolutely Delightful with Dialogue and Delivery par excellence. Do not miss this Brit import that is one of the best things to wash upon our shores since Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House.

Marketed as a dark comedy, the film “follows a group of British retirees who decide to ‘outsource’ their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India.” As anyone who has seen the trailers can see, however, the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" hardly fits any of these four descriptors in its title, unless one can count the nearby marketplace awash in all shades of the orange blossoms. 

The one-man proprietor, bell hop, and resident “handyman,” Sonny Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel) overflows with enthusiasm as readily as the derelict hotel’s plumbing. “We have a saying here,” he says. “Everything is going to be all right in the end. And if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.

The same could be said of the film. Reminding us of wonderful Merchant Ivory British/India collaborations such as A Room with a View (1985), which also featured Judi Dench and Maggie Smith,) Howard’s End (1992), the Remains of the Day (1993), The White Countess (2005), and Before the Rains (2008), this film shows British formality, classism, and stoicism softening around the edges in foreign locales. 

The experience for each of the retirees, forced by unexpected circumstances to relocate so radically, is transformative, even if for one (Penlope Wilton), the transformation is from a nascent shrew into the full-blown variety, an old -fashioned fire-breathing dragon who burns everyone in her path.

While the story has a romantic subplot featuring the young Kappor and his lady love, the focus here in on the older set. Although their quips can at times be a bit clichéd --“At my age I don’t even buy green bananas”—the human yearnings are not. Ultimately each one wants to shine in his or her own right. They reject living with their children, accepting existence as resident babysitters, the indignities of banal retirement ceremonies or arranged romantic meetups, and make bold new starts. That most would never have done so if not forced to by their finances makes that decision more realistic.

Nor does the film treat these beings as the asexual creatures the younger set assumes of their elders. One swinger puts the gals of “Sex in the City” to shame. I confess that her rejoinder to the question from her son-in-law:

“How many husbands have you had?”

“Counting my own?” 

had me nonplussed for a while, but somewhere on the ride home from the theater, I figured out its implications.

The film’s treatment of a gay member is eloquent. His history and regrets come out as naturally as do those of his fellow hotel guests, and as is the case with that age group – surprise, surprise, young whippersnappers -- is accepted fully on its own terms.

Another wonderful aspect of the film is how at least two of the stars’ lives reflect the late blossoming featured in the film. From their respective biographies we learn:

It was not until Dench hit her fifties that she began finding film roles that enabled international audiences the opportunity to appreciate her commanding gifts. A national treasure, Dench was honored by the British government with the title of Dame Commander of the British Army, and her homeland recognized her outstanding contributions to British Theater with a Laurence Olivier Award - officially proving that Dame Judi Dench was what critics had claimed for years: the modern, female equivalent of Sir Laurence Olivier, both onscreen and under the bright glare of the footlights.

Bill Nighy remained one of the U.K.'s best kept secrets until scene-stealing supporting roles in a number of mainstream American hits led to the actor's remarkable success after the age of 50.

And I love the way these Brits, particularly the twin 78-year-old stage and screen icons, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, wear their wrinkles with such pride, especially Maggie Smith, whose role is pivotal, stealing every scene as she waves her wattles with the same panache as an aged rooster. Compare these to our own aging Hollywood stars, testimony to limitations of plastic surgery and botox injections, their faces now have that same creep factor described as the "uncanny valley" theory suggested by robotics pioneer Masahiro Mori in 1970, who says that when an android's resemblance gets too realistic, humans react with a sense of repulsion.

Finally, I have to confess more than disappointment with so many of the so-called film critics whose thinly veiled patronizing contempt seeps through their damning faint praise. Yes, the film is meant to appeal to the over 50 set, a nice change after having so many movies patterned after comic books, graphic novels, and long ago cancelled mediocre television series. The same critics who fawned over the vulgar stereotypes in such masterpieces of artistry as The Hangover and Bridesmaids have now developed greater sensitivities to the nuances of characterization. 

I'd like to set a few of these sneering elites in a room with Penelope Wilton's Jean Ainslie and Maggie Smith's Muriel Donnelly.

Here is a sample of some of their drivel:

A troupe of top-tier British thesps raises this crowd-pleasing pap into something enjoyable. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel represents genteel filmmaking at its finest. Toss together a bunch of award-winning British thespians, the refined but indistinguishable direction of John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt), and the distribution company (Fox Searchlight) that struck gold with its last film set in India (Slumdog Millionaire), and you’re likely to wind up with something like this: a surefire crowd-pleaser, especially among those whose ages exceed the most popular moviegoing demographic. Austin's own Marjorie Baumgarten

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is an Indian dish for day-trippers. Lacking beef or sufficient spice, it's nonetheless colorful comfort food. Joe Williams

It follows in the footsteps of countless other quaint, lengthily titled dollops of cinematic comfort food aimed at well-settled audiences looking for a little vicarious, AARP-approved spunk. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Marc Mohan

Let them happily await the next Judd Apatow triumph. But I’d suggest you get yourself to see this little gem.

— Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Perhaps our Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a bit too exotic for our elderly English guests, who end most of the carefully prepared Indian feasts battling for the few working water closets – that’s toilets to you Yanks out there. Our authentic Indian dish is guaranteed to have none of those repercussions, and is as almost as easy to prepare as jello, but ever so much more fun.

Thanks to Suneeta Vaswani for our recipe for Grape Raita with Cilantro, Mint, and Green Chile Spiked with Yogurt. Ms. Vaswani is a native of Bombay and now one of our country’s foremost experts on Indian cooking, who allowed Different Drummer to use her Indian recipes for a chapter in Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Love's Cookbook.

The recipe is easy, cool, and comforting, just the thing for warm summer meals. If you are feeling more inspired, you can find authentic recipes for a whole Indian menu that bubbles over with seventeen exotic spices in my own cookbook, available through this website. In addition to the Kasmiri Griddle Kabobs, it features Vegetable Pulao, Broccoli with Peanuts, Ginger, and Indian Spices; Prawn Balchow, as well as the Grape Raita with Cilantro, Mint, and Green Chile Spiked with Yogurt.

As they say in Hindi, āp kā khānā svādiṣṭa ho.

Indian Grape Raita

 Grape Raita with Cilantro, Mint, and Green Chile Spiked with Yogurt

  • 4 cups plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups seedless grapes
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup mint leaves
  • 2-3 green chilies, preferably serranos
  • Salt to taste

Stir yogurt until creamy. Stir in grapes. Make a smooth paste of cilantro and mint leaves and chilies. Add to yogurt. Add salt. Chill well before serving.

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook