My adventure began when I made the decision to accompany my husband to India. Even though I have been back in the States for 1 ½ years, I remain fascinated with India. Once I read about the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I made plans to see it.
I wondered if my impressions would mirror the reactions of the main characters. Would the movie capture the richness of modern Indian life and would I be able to commiserate with their plight? Living in India is very different from taking a 2 week vacation. Would the actors be able to convey that difference?
I knew that I would have little in common with the main characters, seven elderly British people who made the decision to retire in India. Each was making the journey for a unique reason. The only thing they had in common with one another was the fact that their perception of the final destination was skewed.
Many of the scenes reminded me of the dichotomy of India- modern buildings with call centers versus camels and elephants walking freely. While I never saw camels or elephants strolling down the main roads in Bangalore or New Delhi, other animals such as cows, goats, chickens, monkeys and wild dogs were observed. The rural location of the hotel revealed another dimension to life in India. I had some comparable experiences when I traveled into the countryside.
My day to day city life was similar in some respects and different in others. I will always remember how my stomach was constantly irritated. The writers illustrated this common issue. I experienced a profound sense of frustration trying to communicate with many people. Only Maggie Smith’s relationship with her caretaker provided any hint of that limitation. Unlike the episode when Judi Dench’s and Bill Nigh’s characters were unable to bargain with a merchant, I successfully bargained with vendors. The dichotomy between the poor and the rest of the population will never be erased from my memory. The common occurrence of children looking for handouts was realistic.
As the individual characters were introduced, I said to myself, “Oh no, I won’t be able to relate to them.” Once the group arrived in India, the scenes started to intertwine with my personal memories. I could connect with the massive crowds, scary drivers, vibrant colors, open markets, and unmitigated culture shock.
I may have traveled to India for employment rather than retirement, but the underlying message of the movie is universal. A person’s response to an unpredictable situation is dependent on his/her “personal baggage”, underlying goals, and the desire to be flexible. The characters who saw their experience as an adventure had an easier time adapting while those who remained aloof and stubborn remained unhappy.
Penelope Wilson’s character was doomed from the start. She carried her discontentment with life to India. It clouded her judgment and prevented her from ever seeing anything positive. The uncertainty associated with being in a foreign country intensified her underlying issues. Maggie Smith’s character also struggled. She was able to overcome her rigidity by discarding some of her personal baggage when she became sensitized by daily contacts with Indians. As her attitude changed, she was able to see the glass half full rather than half empty.
Judi Dench’s character, the narrator, was the only character who sought employment. As a result, her underlying goals made her more committed. Her personal baggage was in a state of flux as she wrestled with the knowledge that her deceased husband was deceitful. She lightened her load when she focused on the future rather than her past.
The remaining four characters, in varying degrees, were open to adventure. Tom Wilkinson’s character wanted to make peace with his past by searching for people from his Indian childhood. Bill Nighy’s character shelved his past and was eager to embrace the here and now. Celia Imrie’s and Ronald Pickup’s characters were opposite bookends. Each was using their Indian experience to find companionship.
This collage of experiences made me rethink my own odyssey. When I embarked on my Indian travel, I was seeking an adventure, but at the same time I carried personal baggage that hindered my ability to be carefree. My conscious desire to be flexible ebbed and flowed. The more willing I was to sway in the breeze, the more I was able to grasp the richness of India.