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Friday, July 06, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It was nice to know that veteran TV and stage actor Rajendra Gupta was veteran British TV and screen actor Tom Wilkinson’s long-lost lover (And alas, as always, veteran actress Neena Kulkarni gets a raw deal.)

Not in real life, of course. In the latest British comedy based in India, the harmless John Madden venture, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.’ I saw the film last night and I have nothing to say against it, or for it, except for the sub-plot involving Tom Wilkinson’s secret love life. (That way, the entire film is a series of sub-plots, held together by the eponymous hotel, and the Jaipur location. I don’t know where the film was shot, but the production design is top-notch; Jaipur looks real, not just exotic, which is a huge bonus for a film like this.)

You know the tale, based on the novel, ‘Those Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach, if not HERE it is.

Graham, played by Wilkinson, is a high court judge with a past. He grew up in Rajasthan and during his teens fell in love with a dapper Indian young man, Manoj. They had three blissful months till there was a scandal. Graham was packed off to London, while Manoj and his family was left to face the consequences of this sordid affair. Graham could never forgive himself for not being able to help Manoj, and all these years, he had suppressed his guilt and his desire for his one great love. Now that he knows he’s dying, he returns to Jaipur for a last meeting.

Graham arrives in Jaipur, does some scouting and finds the address of his lover. He visits the address with his two new-found British friends and meet Gaurika, his wife, and then, in a beautifully captured shot, comes face-to-face with middle-aged and shabby Manoj. Forty years and they recognise each other instantly, and Manoj impulsively hugs Graham. And, we see that the man is none other than Rajendra Gupta.

It was an inspired casting decision, if you ask me, to bring together Gupta and Wilkinson, even if for a short embrace — both the actors have such similar career trajectory! Both started with working in television and then stage, before venturing into cinema, and both are remarkable actors who win any role they play. But, then, there’s one tiny difference. While Wilkinson’s film career flourished, and continues to do so (it’s like he’s in every other Hollywood film), with two Oscar nominations, as a bankable supporting cast, Gupta’s big screen career continues to languish in the background. He has acted in a large number of films since his Doordarshan days, but always, always in two-bit roles. I remember him from those Doordarshan days, where he was a force to reckon with. He found meaningful work in the stage, but never got his dues in the big screen.

And here he is, with his own Hollywood film (Why should only Anil Kapoor and Irrfan have Hollywood films?), but, the film lets him down. He appears in three scenes, and doesn’t utter a single word. Neena Kulkarni, another prolific actor, gets to speak two lines, one in English, another in Hindi.

Something is better than nothing.

Coming back to the Best Exotic love story, it was a disaster. The film lets Graham down as well. The emotional reunion between the two long-lost lovers lasts for one second. Then the scene cuts to the surprised face of Manoj’s wife and then to the British friends.

Then we leave the lovers and focus on the blooming intimacy between the widowed housewife, Evelyn, and the husband struck in a loveless marriage, Douglas, played respectively by Judy Dench and Bill Nighy. While the same sex love story is dismissed, the heterosexual lover story gets an open air folk song, and then, we get another hetero love story, between a young couple.

The next time we see Graham, he’s alone (The night is over and we don’t get to see the lover’s together.). Back in the hotel, he meets the British Lothario of the piece, Norman, and tells him about his love for a man. A man! Norman, the Lothario, interjects, and says, carry on. Graham explains how he spent all these years in guilt while Manoj had always loved him, irrespective of the scandal. And, after years, Graham the judge, finds his redemption. Now, he will be happy, for a change.

But ‘Best Exotic’, like most mainstream medium of story-telling, denies Graham the opportunity, and takes the easy way out, by killing the poor, old man. This is an old Hollywood formula. A gay man cannot be happy. He can live as long as he is miserable. Once he has found his share of happiness, he must die.

And, in a gesture of supreme generosity, the film gives Graham a poetic death, and an elaborate send off. As he lies dead on the chair in the garden (reminiscent of the death of Vito Corleone in ‘The Godfather’), we see a white egret (was it an egret?) fly away gracefully. This is supposed to be Graham’s soul. Then we see Manoj, his wife and the British friends cremate Graham according to the Hindu rites, and we see a grim-looking Gupta praying, and not a single word, as Judy Dench’s narrator continued to babble.

One redeeming factor: The film makes Manoj a better human being than most Indian married men who have sex with other men. Apparently, before marriage, he had told his wife that he loved Graham and would always do. The poor wife!

1 comment:

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