Director John Madden of Shakespeare In Love takes moviegoers on a laughable journey through Northwestern India with seven British seniors looking to end their days in exotic luxury in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Instead of luxury, they embark on an adventure that none of them saw coming and realize it’s never too late to start living your life.
Staring British veterans Judi Dench Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire this film explores the overwhelming culture shock often experienced by first time travellers to India. The seven retirees, Muriel, Douglas, Evelyn, Graham, Jean, Madge and Norman tell the heart-warming story of second chances at love, friendship beyond language barriers and coming to terms with sexuality all while discovering a culture completely different from what they had expected – one of kindness, colour and life. Sonny (Dev Patel) genuinely believes in the promises of the brochure that brought each of them to India and spends the majority of the film trying to make that a reality while touching on Indian cultural anomalies like arranged marriages, family responsibility and the ever persistent entrepreneurial spirit found in young Indian men.
The film is set in southeastern Rajasthan with street scenes being filmed in Jaipur and the decrepit “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, a former tribal chieftain’s palace, located in the lakeside city of Udaipur. Rajasthan is called the Land of Kings as it was where Maharajas built their great forts and lavish palaces. One of the most traveled areas in India, Rajasthan is teeming with colour, countless festivals and some of the best shopping and dining in India.
Jaipur is known as “The City of Victory” and is congested and busy with cars, tuk tuks, bikes and cows all competing for space on the crowded streets which are lined with flower vendors selling garlands of marigold, groups of kids flying kites and food vendors. At the centre is the old city or “Pink City” recognizable by the distinct colour of the defensive walls that surround it which are filled with countless markets and bazaars selling heavy silver dishes, spices, teas, saris and bangles.
- Jantar Mantar Observatory – In the film, Norman (Ronald Pickup) goes to the observatory but rather than learn about the exceptional geometric devices he spends his time gawking at the beautiful women dressed in colourful saris
The observatories or “Jantar Mantars” are large scale structures that can measure time, predict eclipses and track stars. Built between 1727 and 1734 by Maharajah Jai Singh II, these structures have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Hawa Mahal
The “Palace of the Winds” is Jaipur’s most distinct landmark with an extraordinarily detailed sandstone façade that resembles a beehive with honey-combed latticework on the windows and golden finials. This was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to allow royal women to view the comings and goings of the city without being seen.
Udaipur has been called the Paris of India and is considered India’s most romantic city. Set around the expansive Lake Pichola with the background of the picturesque Aravalli hills, Udaipur has a fairytale-like appeal. The city centre is filled with heritage havelis (former mansions) which have been transformed into hostels, restaurants and schools. Usually constructed from white stone, havalis have a delicate lace-like construction centred around a courtyard with canopy balconies and frescos on the walls depicting gods, goddesses and pastoral themes. Many tourists visit Udaipur just to visit the havalis.
Places to stay in Udaipur:
- City Palace – Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel
A true luxury experience, this hotel is located in the Rajasthan’s largest palace with balconies, cupolas and the same lace-like arches as seen on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the movie. Towering over the shores of Lake Pichola this exceptionally restored hotel has lavishly decorated rooms, rooftop restaurants, a pool, spa and manicured lawn for lounging like a Maharaja. The City Palace Complex, 1-800-180-2933.
- Hotel Ganguar Palace
A much more rustic accommodation, this traditional havali has been converted into a hotel with a stone pillar courtyard that houses an art school and exceptional French bakery – a great place for a morning croissant. Visually, it has the same heritage architecture typical of Udaipur with a good rooftop restaurant but rooms are barebones and lack luxury. 339, Ashoka Haveli, Gangaur Ghat Marg.