(Published in The Sunday Guardian on May 20, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/the-distress-of-spices)
Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel
Director: John Madden
Rating: 2 stars
The only thing more annoying than India being exotified by foreigners is India being exotified by Indians. In other words, this movie’s not as pissing off as it would’ve been had it been directed by the maker of Devdas, and not the maker of Shakespeare in Love. Its other redeeming factor is the cast of Tony Award veterans, whose acting skills stand out against the incompetence of Dev ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Patel.
Of course, a foreign production in India merits a foreign Indian. Never mind that his Sonny Kapoor sounds like a phirang trying to sound Indian, when most hotels are run by Indians trying to sound phoren. His lines are godawful. Try this refrain: “We have a saying, everything will be all right in the end. So if it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end.” Worse, he exaggerates that fake accent in statements like, “Most definitely we will refund you, straightaway in three months” and seems so chuffed to be saying them, he kills most of the punchli...no, wait, nudgelines.
Seven stingy Britons land up at an Indian retirement home, complete with grouse and goal. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has been rendered homeless, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) penniless, Graham (Tom Wilkinson), Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) spouseless, and Muriel (Maggie Smith) is bummed out because she needs a cheap bum – well, she can’t afford hip replacement surgery in England.
Naturally, you expect these seven to pair off into couples – well, couples and a cat if need be – and that’s exactly where the film seems headed, quite unapologetically. Its biggest let down is its belief that it is being innovative, when it’s coating a tired screenplay with clichéd music and kitschy scenes. Every instrument that originated, or is thought to have originated, in India finds a place in the score. Pigeons fly out of chandeliers when doors are opened, dust escapes four centuries of entrapment when pillows are fluffed, and Indian toilets are brought into the picture when someone wants to go to the loo.
India is summed up in rash driving and cows, elephants and bathing ghats; in a dreamy reference to the “light, colour, smiles” andvibrant life of Incredible India. If you aren’t tickled by heritage forts disintegrating, your movie experience will only be salvaged by the lovely timing the British actors bring into their lines.
The Verdict: It’s a contrived storyline; but if you’re into glass-half-full stories, I suppose this will eat up less of your time than ‘How to Win Friends and Make Love at 70’ or whatever that book’s called.