February 25 2015
Two young stars talk to us about the challenges of filming in India and not being daunted by the weight of established British and US talent in this sequel to the breakout hit of 2012…
BY Suman Bhuchar
ACTOR Dev Patel virtually steals this movie and that too despite the cream of British acting talent in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. It’s a sequel to the first, which showed a group of British pensioners settling into an unusual hotel (say, all its guests are of a certain vintage) in Jaipur and learning to love it.
Among its stars are Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Richard Gere and Lillete Dubey (well known in India).
There’s also Tina Desai who plays Dev’s fiancé in the film and more of her later.
Lanky and immensely likeable, you can’t help feel that Patel’s character ‘Sonny’, who founded and runs the establishment, works brilliantly because of the energy and personality of the actor himself.
In a one-to-one interview, with www.asianculturevulture.com, Patel said: “It’s (the film) a lot deeper than the first one.
“The first one was dealing with westerners acclimatising to India in its extremity, but in this, we know the characters now so you’re not dealing with that and you don’t get the jokes from that, it’s more about the more deeper human issues and the fears they face, the fears of growing older – can I find love again? Am I allowed to find love? Am I allowed to find another job?”
The time the characters of Evelyn Greenslade (Dench); Muriel Donnelly (Smith); Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy); Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and others are firmly ensconced in the said hotel.
In this, the film revolves around the forthcoming nuptials of Sonny and Sunaina (Desai) and Sonny’s plans to expand his empire, while the Brits try and make themselves useful and find a new role in India.
Sonny is certainly attempting to be more of a mature character and tries to behave as though he is a big industrialist.
“He’s a mess,” confessed Patel. “Sonny is really, an endearing guy if he was an animal he’d be a big black goofy Labrador.
“He means no harm, he’s just trying to be the ultimate showman and in his mind, he thinks he is Richard Branson – he’s the entrepreneur who wants to turn his ‘footnote into a franchise’ in his words, and he can’t help it –sometimes when you go to India they have this wonderfully brutal way of talking – it’s just not brutal, it’s abrupt and that’s what Sonny is – without knowing it, he’s quite rude.”
The original “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movie was based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, with a screenplay by Ol Parker, but the second one has been created by Parker, who has given Sonny some very Indian-English type expressions and a distinctly ‘Hinglish’ voice.
And to find that sound, Patel has turned to several sources.
“He’s a mash up of certain people I’ve created, Sonny is really a kind of showman through and through so that dictates a lot of it.”
“It’s fun doing a comedy because you get to go in and decide who am I going to create. You want to create someone that’s memorable and different, so there’s this choreographer who taught me how to dance in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and in the Second Marigold he came back to teach us the last dance.”
Patel is referring to Longinus Fernandes, the Indian dancer and choreographer, who choreographed the dance to the songs “Jai Ho” and “O Saya” in “Slumdog Millionaire”.
“He’s this really cool flamboyant Indian guy and he’s all gestures and arms, he is full of energy.”
The rest of the inspiration he credits to “probably a couple of drunk uncles and just watching Peter Sellers and different comedians that you put together and you come up with this kind of style”.
It’s worth seeing the film just for some of this amusing Indian-English dialogue with phrases like ‘she’s more menopause than mortuary,’ as well as the on-screen relationship between Patel and Dame Maggie Smith.
In the original, her character, Muriel has some prejudices that she learns to shake off but in this one, they run the hotel together and make an unlikely couple and business partnership.
“My favourite scenes are with Maggie,” said Patel. “You just learn a lot and the chemistry was incredible.
“Talking of chemistry – we’re just the oddest of odd couples in the film but she becomes this woman who runs the hotel with me and they are the perfect left and right brain; Sonny is going around causing chaos and she exercises damage control.
“And he loves her – she’s the practical one and he’s the flamboyant entrepreneur but beyond that, she starts to become a mother figure to him and he only listens to her, and her words count, so there is a nice emotional depth there as well as the obvious comedy.”
Apart from Muriel, the other woman in Sonny’s life is his fiancée, Sunaina played by the Bangalore-born actress, Desai.
www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with the petite and friendly actor, and asked whether working with Dev Patel, must have made her the envy of all the women?
“Really, he’s such a cartoon,” came the reply. “He knows that very well, he’s very high energy, and tries to flirt very hard with everybody, but I don’t think that even he knows to flirt – he’s constant comedy, the darling and a very, very talented actor.”
Desai’s showbiz career was launched when she entered an Indian reality show contest called “Get Gorgeous” on Channel V. She later worked as a model for commercials and revealed the rigorous process that got her the coveted role.
“Seher Latif, the casting director called me, I auditioned for her first, then for the director, John Madden, then there was a third round of auditions where I had to do all of my scenes from the first film and then I had to show them a lot of my biggest ads, and then I had to show them a couple of scenes from my unreleased Hindi films – because they wanted to know what that would look like.”
Here her voice went down to a whisper. “I was finally cast.”
Desai said that working in the film has given her the chance to get an intensive acting course, because, she has been surrounded by some the best thespians and artists in the business – true how many newcomers get a chance to work with two Dames – Smith and Dench, no less?
Apart from that, what was her best experience from the film?
“It would be the dance for sure, the ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom‘ (at the end). The Viceroy club was prettily decorated with the flowers and lights and everything with all the background dancers, and the cold (they shot it in January/February last year), with all of us in costumes and all the senior actors joining us. It’s a very high energy song, and it’s a finale, I think that’s the most special.”
Since the film was made, both Desai and Patel have been off working on other projects.
Desai will soon be seen in the Wachowskis siblings’ series for Netflix, “Sense8”, while Patel will be appearing as the mathematician, Srinivas Ramanujan in “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, and shooting in India for another film, “Lion” (the remarkable true tale of a Saroo Brierley – adopted and raised in Australia, the one-time homeless Indian railway child returns to look for his biological parents).
Patel said he loves spending time in India, because “in terms of filmmaking, it’s the most amazing canvas to shoot a movie, there is so much stimulus there and an unrefined fun to it. It’s really extreme in every way. I enjoy succumbing to the place, and as the film says, “it is an assault to your senses in every way”.
*’The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel‘ opens today across the UK…