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Movie Discussion Resource

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

posterGenre: Romantic comedy/drama
Rating: PG13
Length: 1 hour 58 minutes
Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel
Director: John Madden (Shakespeare in Love)

Brief synopsis
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on Deborah Moggach’s book, These Foolish Things, and follows a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by brochures for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive in Jaipur, Rajasthan, to find the palatial residence a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.  © Fox Searchlight
Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Growing old
The movie may be enjoyed by any age, but particularly for those who have reached retirement &/or more senior years. One writer described it as ‘An hilarious and touching comedy about growing old disgracefully’. Another writes: ‘It’s a film with appeal across the generations, tapping into universal fears of being forgotten in old age’. What were the stereotypes? What surprised you? What resonated eg identity, sexuality and seniors, disappointments and failed hopes, never too late to try something new.

Set in the wonderful, perplexing and colourful nation of India, there are many scenes that pick up on cultural difference, cultural expectations. What stands out for you? Share some of your own experiences in another culture.

‘Everything will be alright in the end; if things are not alright, it means it is not yet the end’, Sonny (the well meaning and enthusiastic hotel manager) repeats several times. Kipling’s quote about treating disaster the same as triumph is also part of his philosophy. Can you identify the underlying ‘philosophy’ or approach to life of the main characters, and where it has led them. Do you identify with any of these approaches, or how would you sum up (in a sentence) your own philosophy?

Brits abroad
British holiday makers have a reputation of being in a ‘bubble’ – located in another ‘exotic’ location, but expecting all the usual British food and traditions. A kind of imperialism at work. The same could be said of holiday makers from many countries. What are the personal challenges of setting aside one’s habits, traditions and expectations and being prepared to enter into another culture?

Many call centres are outsourced to India, part of the globalised market forces. What other examples of ‘outsourcing’ medical procedures are you aware of, or when people make the most of ‘cheaper’ operations in a developing country. What might be the pros and cons of this growing practice?

Travel as transforming
For better or worse, travel can be transforming. Each of the main characters respond differently to their new siutation. ‘It’s going to be extraordinary’, declares Graham, who had previously lived in India and has his own motives for being in India. ‘I’m in hell’, moans grumpy bigot Muriel (although she has some of the best lines such as: ‘I can’t plan that far ahead; I can’t even buy green bananas’). Endlessly complaining, Jean stays put at the hotel, not venturing out at all (apart from snooping on Graham, for whom she has a fancy). Her husband Douglas is keen to explore, and reads up on temples and palaces he might visit. Evelyn makes the most of an opportunity for her first ever job. Norman is ever optimistic and creative in the process of finding a partner.
What are you own experiences of travel as transforming?

India on the rise
The movie shows India as we might traditionally expect it to be, but less of the emerging middle class (particularly young adults), and new millionaires (expected to be 403,000 by 2015). Sonny tells his girlfriend: ‘You’re part of a modern India my mother cannot welcome!’ Things are changing rapidly for India. It is the world’s largest democracy with the world’s 2nd largest population, and expected to become the world’s 3rd largest economy within 20 years. Economic growth has exceeded 9% in recent years. India is a global player in telecommunications, information technology and pharmaceuticals. It is interesting to note that the SA Government is keen to enhance economic ties with India, and has placed the country on top of the list of future trade partners. India is already the state’s fourth largest export market.
Yet, India continues to face massive problems with 300 million untouchables and 70 million tribals locked into a cycle of endemic poverty. Landless farm labourers still toil under oppressive conditions for a very meagre wage and religious minorities continue to be brutally persecuted.
What is this ‘modern India’, and what might be the impact upon the population in India?

Seniors and spirituality
“If we compare our lives to dramas with various themes and dramatic plot lines, then old age is the time when the meaning of the play become clear to us.”
(Zalman Schachter-Shalomi). ‘There are many seniors approaching their final years, overwhelmed by the realization that their life achievements are quickly losing their value, and that what is lying ahead will have to be faced with a new set of “skills” (capitalself.com).
What are some of the issues of ‘wellness’ and spirituality for seniors?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 29th March 2012 Pilgrim Uniting Church
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