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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel--Outsourcing the Elderly and Beautiful

Updated on May 31, 2012

The Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful is a charming story of late blooming romance and a thoroughly entertaining progression of our penchant to outsource to the third world everything we can't afford to do in our own countries. The country is India, and this time it is not our customer service or our technical support we outsource, but the care and locale for our golden years.

This British comedy-drama is based on the 2004 novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach and is directed by John Madden with screenplay by Ol Parker.

Each of the characters are motivated financially to find a new, affordable but exotic way to live, and all are equally motivated in their search for meaning and love.

While the movie is delightful from start to finish, you can't help but hear the voice inside you asking: "What circumstances could bring me to choose to spend my last few years in a strange and far away third world country?"

For this ensemble cast the reasons are as complicated as the characters themselves. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has just sold her home to cover her recently deceased husband's considerable debts, Douglas and Jean (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) lost their life savings in their daughter's internet start-up, Graham (Tom Wilkinson) was a high court judge raised in India, Madge (Celia Imrie) is looking for another wealthy husband, Muriel (Maggie Smith) is there for an inexpensive hip replacement and Norman (Ronald Pickup) is still looking for one-night stands.

Their romantic notion of their destination is shattered when they reach Jaipur and find their connecting flight is canceled and they have to travel overnight by bus and tuk tuk to the hotel. Graham, being the only one familiar with the city makes arrangements and in general is the calm voice of the group. Their disappointment deepens when they actually arrive and see the dilapidated state of the building and rooms without working phones and missing doors. Add to this the general disorganization and disorientation they feel and you expect them all to turn around and go back home. Showing up to greet them is the inexperienced but irrepressibly upbeat Manager Sonny (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) who assures them that even though he might have PhotoShopped the building's picture in the brochure, everything will be put in order soon.

Dev: "Nervous! God, terror was eating me up when I was told that I would share the screen with actors like Judi Dench and Bill Nighy... once we started filming, I realised how delightful these actors are to share screen space with."
Dev: "Nervous! God, terror was eating me up when I was told that I would share the screen with actors like Judi Dench and Bill Nighy... once we started filming, I realised how delightful these actors are to share screen space with."
Sonny's love Suinana
Sonny's love Suinana
Maggie Smith shines in her transformation from bigot to benefactor as Muriel
Maggie Smith shines in her transformation from bigot to benefactor as Muriel

What actually happens then is the stuff of writers delight. On the practical side, they couldn't afford to go back, but one by one, they begin to find their own way to transform the experience into the dream they so desperately wanted it to be.

Sonny inherited the hotel along with two brothers who are more business minded and want to raze the building and build something else. His mother has little patience with him and wants him to return to Delhi and marry a traditional bride. The problem is, Sonny desperately loves beautiful Sunaina (Tena Desae), who works for her brother at his call centre.

Evelyn wants to show her children she can take care of herself and successfully talks her way into a job at Sunaina's call centre as a cultural adviser. She notices that the callers are too attentive to the script and not attentive to the needs of those being called and shows them how they can succeed by following a few cultural and courteous practices.

Muriel, recently dismissed from what she considered her life's work, is the curmudgeon of the group and although openly racist in the inimitable Maggie Smith style, she finds in the untouchable hotel cleaner something she can not only identify with, but which helps her find a way to build relationships with those she formerly shunned.

Jean seems to blame Douglas for their circumstances and instead of getting out or fitting in, she stays in her room reading while finding everything from the food to the surroundings intolerable. Taken with the successful judge, Graham, she pushes herself on him only to be embarrassed when she finds out the early love of his life he is searching for in city records is a man.

Douglas, meanwhile, is enjoying the new surroundings and together with Evelyn, explores the city and finds delight in both the sights and Evelyn.

Each of the seven retirees are searching for something they have not been able to find in their lives to date. Perhaps it is the upheaval of their finances or their relationships that has set them free to look inside to see, in these last golden moments, what is truly important.

Evelyn: Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.
Muriel: Most things don't. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.

Sonny: Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.

Deborah Maggach, who adapted Pride and Prejudice for the Keira Knightly movie, wrote the book Marigold Hotel is based on, These Foolish Things, because she began to think about getting older and noted that for the first time those over 50 outnumber all the rest. She wondered where everyone would live and realizing we are now in a global civilization with everything available via the internet, she called upon her own experience living in Pakistan and invented an enterprising young man (Sonny) to create a retirement hotel in India. The following is an excerpt from her book which is not in the movie but illustrates the life they would lead:

Sealed into their compound the residents lived in a world which was, in many ways, more familiar than the England they had left behind. It was an England of Catherine Cookson paperbacks and clicking knitting needles, of Kraft Dairylea portions and a certain Proustian recall. Now the summer was over the mali was planting out English annuals - marigolds and cosmea - widely spaced in damp depressions of earth. Evelyn itched to get her hands on the flowerbeds; gardeners here knew nothing about colour and mass.

Outside the walls, India clamoured. So many people, such need and desperation. Evelyn had only ventured out a few times; she found the experience disorientating. The moment she stepped through the gate beggars stirred and clambered to their feet. Skeletal dogs nosed through heaps of rubbish. Even the holy cows, wandering between the cars, were cruelly thin. And then there was the legless young man, sitting on his trolley in the midst of the exhaust smoke.

"We can go for a walk later, if you'd like that," said Evelyn. "It's all very different, I must say. I mean, in England people have got so much, yet they're becoming rather rude, don't you find? Here they've got nothing at all yet they're very polite. How are you? They ask. Where do you come from? Oh they pester you but in the nicest way."
Muriel didn't appear to be listening. She was probably suffering from jet-lag; after all, for her it must still be the middle of the night. Somebody had mentioned that she had been left on a hospital trolley for three days. Oh well, thought Evelyn, at least she's got her legs. India, she was discovering, made one thankful for small mercies.
"I met some charming schoolchildren,” Evelyn said. “White socks, so neat and clean, and they called me aunty.”

The King's Palace--The Amber Fort
The King's Palace--The Amber Fort

Jaipur is the first and considered by many urbanites to be one of the best planned cities.

Almost all Northern Indian towns of that period presented a chaotic picture of narrow twisting lanes, a confusion of run-down forts, temples, palaces, and temporary shacks that bore no resemblance at all to the principles set out in Hindu architectural manuals which call for strict geometric planning. Sawai Jai Singh II, who was an avid astronomer, together with his Bengali advisor Vidyadhar, founded Jaipur in accordance with the principles of Hindu architectural theory as well as his astrological designs.

The original city was laid out at right angles in square blocks, with wide, straight streets. Shop fronts were numbered consecutively, and signs had a standardized appearance, largely preserved to this day.The directions of each street and market are East to West and North to South.

The city is remarkable among pre-modern Indian cities for the width and regularity of its streets which are laid out into six sectors separated by broad streets over a hundred ft wide. The urban quarters are further divided by networks of gridded streets, wrapping around the east, south, and west sides of a central palace quarter.

The Palace quarter encloses a sprawling palace complex with formal gardens, and a small lake. Nahargarh Fort, Singh II's residence, crowns the hill in the northwest corner of the old city. Jaipur is an extremely popular tourist destination in Rajasthan and India.

You've heard of people "painting the town red," but in 1876, Jaipur was colored in terracotta pink to welcome Prince Albert, giving it it's present nickname “Pink City.”

Ecuador is becoming a popular expat retirement destination
Ecuador is becoming a popular expat retirement destination
Costa Rica is another favorite way to retire on a budget and I have it on good authority--they have delicious coffee
Costa Rica is another favorite way to retire on a budget and I have it on good authority--they have delicious coffee

Retiring Abroad--A solution for baby boomers

We've done such a good job of making our countries and our way of life so successful that we've priced ourselves right out of our own market. Expat sites have put the number of American retirees living abroad as high as 1.5 million. As baby boomers hit their retirement years and look around for a change and affordable living, that number could soar.

For retirees, leaving the United States often means a more affordable way of life, including low-cost healthcare, real estate and even gasoline prices. Additional incentives, especially for north easterners, is being able to pick a warm weather spot with a tight knit social community.

Although retired expats are required by the U.S. government to pay taxes, in places like Ecuador and Honduras, a typical monthly budget is about $800 per month, which includes paying out of pocket for doctor visits, which are often less than $20 per appointment.

Most families get their monthly retirement check in their U.S. bank account and use an ATM for monthly cash withdrawals for all expenses including rent. Getting around by bus is about 12 cents for seniors; taxis cost anywhere from $1 to $3, and gasoline is subsidized by the government and is under $2 per gallon.

Here is an excerpt from the online version of Mint, an Indian business newspaper:

[European retirees in India] can enjoy the standard of living they have come to know, at price levels they can afford. For India, the retirees’ spending offers another growth industry, potentially employing another several hundred thousand people working in the hospitality retirement business and all the ancillary services associated with it... If India can serve as back office to the world, why can’t we become its retirement home as well?

An earlier editorial in the Times of India discussed the same topic:

Given the high rates of rentals and medical services abroad, people are opting to move to India to lead retired lives that are comfortable and affordable. India ought to pull out all stops to attract this kind of outsourcing as it has great potential.


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    • Cathi Sutton profile image

      Cathi Sutton 

      5 years ago

      Great review! I can't wait to see this movie! I LOVE Dev Patel. He's my new favorite actor. I've seen Slumdog Millionair more than once, and I hope his career is long and pure! He has such talent and depth in his art. So believable.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Adt719,

      Thank you for your thoughtful yes it would be hard work. So if I ever want to live in another culture I would need to do a lot of visiting first and getting to know all the beautiful girls there and the gorgeous views and unspoiled beaches---hey, this doesn't sound like work at all--what are we waiting for? =:)

    • adt719 profile image


      6 years ago from Richardson TX

      The best part of your hub stopped me in my tracks:

      While the movie is delightful from start to finish, you can't help but hear the voice inside you asking: "What circumstances could bring me to choose to spend my last few years in a strange and far away third world country?"

      I have lived in two developing countries. Retirement outside the USA? I don't think so. Living in another culture is dang hard work! BTW I just didn't get that the characters were re-locating to Jaipur for retirement. Maybe the Hotel in the title left me confused?

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Greetings Hillary, thank your for your gracious comment.

      I find I really enjoy researching and reviewing movies and this one was extremely rewarding. I hadn't read any of Maggach's books and now I want to do just that. Researching the international retirement destinations has made me want to check out Belize and Costa Rica. The Feline Prophet assures me that I will enjoy India as well.

      You are so right about the agelessness of love and adventure--in fact, many have no time for either until the demands of child rearing and business subsides. If I ever reach a stopping point in my business, I just may start the quest for love and adventure early. =:)

    • Green Lotus profile image


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I loved the film too Winsome and you've given it a great and thorough review.

      Marigold confirmed so many things for me especially the truth that life, love, and adventure can begin at any age and that retirement (no matter what sum your bank account displays) doesn't mean winding up in an old age home or a condo with a panic button.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Angela, yes it would--wouldn't it be fun if after we see a movie like that we could walk out into the real place and shop in the markets and ride a tuk tuk.

      Thanks for the visit and up vote. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Theresa you are so welcome. You will be warmed by its subtle honesty and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

      Thank you for sharing, you are excellent at it. =:)

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      6 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      It sounds as though this would be a very beautiful way to escape for a couple hours! voted up!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      What a wonderful film hub-review. Now I have to see this film and based on the tile alone I would have passed it by. Thank you!! Sharing.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Doc, when I saw that Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy were in the same movie I knew it would be a keeper. The thing I liked about Sonny besides his upbeat nature was that when his bothers looked at the hotel they saw raw land potential but Sonny looked at the same hotel and saw people.

      Thank you for the visit and the positive words. =:)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Excellent review, Winsome, you make me want to see that delightful movie again. It was enchanting the first time and you provided a very warm and realistic synopsis of the storyline. The actors were well chosen for their respective roles and Sonny was an Indian delight. Thanks for the rerun!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi ST, nice to hear you visit my stomping grounds. I agree about the adventurous nature of the movie characters. They were outsourcing themselves into a new page of life. Their kids thought it was scandalous but they were taking charge of their destiny in the most adventurous way they could imagine--and afford, of course.

      Thank you for the kind words and welcome visit. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      FP you can count on it!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Tom, I am happy to see you here and glad you enjoyed it. There is so much other countries can share with us and moving to where facilities and help is affordable benefits both. I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

      Thanks for coming by and for the follow. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi JG, so nice to see you. Thank you for the votes--I saw an article that said that India has not set up a means to stay long enough--no retirement visa yet, but with this movie and the success Central American countries have had, I am confident it will be coming soon.

      It sounds like you live in a developing area like the small town in which I spent the early part of my life. I predict that the internet will be used to feed to small town larger screens in lieu of projection systems in the next few years. Pirate versions already stream like the early Napster and the movie distributers will cash in like Itunes did for audio.

      Thanks for the visit. =:)

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Winsome, I loved this hub and loved the movie, though the question you raise never occurred to me- outsourcing our elderly. There are wonderful options here in the US, as I have discovered; this year I moved my mother in law to LA and my mom is in that stage of discernment as well. I would like to retire to a Burbank writers community I read about! But economics plays a part and I couldn't afford India either!!!

      What i loved about the movie was the adventurous nature of the elderly. Life for them was not ending, but new conquests remained! I loved this energy- this declaration coined by Monty Python, "I'm not dead yet!" I found rhe movie hilarious and poignant, ie, there is life after 70.

      Of course I would love to travel to India to visit Fe and Jaspal and Shalini, too...

      Great job!! Voted up and interesting.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      6 years ago

      Winsome, that sounds like a very good idea indeed! I'll watch this space for further developments, shall I? :)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      I loved the movie, and I really like the discussion spurred by your article. Thank you!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I've been wanting to see this movie ever since its upcoming release was advertised at the end of several episodes of "Downton Abbey". After seeing Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in period dress for months, it was a bit of a shock to see them in "normal" clothes! Alas, I think I've missed the run of "Marigold" in my small town, so I'll probably wait until it comes out on DVD. But until I read your delightful and informative hub, I wasn't aware it was about ex-pats. Hmmmm...

      Yes, it IS strange that the U.S. is allowing - even encouraging by virtue of the cost of healthcare - the outsourcing of its retired elderly.

      I wasn't aware India had become a Blue Hair ex-pat destination, only that at one time many retirees had moved to Central America because their SocSec would go much farther.

      Voted up and awesome! ;D

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Greetings FP, my favorite feline, I too am from a strange and far away republic--Texas, but I suspect you are talking about a little further away and more exotic. While I don't intend to retire any time soon, I would like to be able to write and research abroad--preferably where English is also spoken...India, England, Belize are all delightful.

      Maybe we can collaborate on something. =:)

    • profile image

      Ana Louis 

      6 years ago

      Gladly. Hopefully it will show at our local theater. Small town cinemas seem to think that only the blockbusters will draw an audience leaving those of us who like more refined(:)?) entertainment to forage. But never fear - Dishnet will save the day once again. Catch you later.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      6 years ago

      Winsome, as one who lives in the 'strange and far away third world country', I recommend it enthusiastically, should your retirement plans lean that way! :)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hello friend Ana, I think you will really enjoy it. I like to think the young manager Sonny had listened to all these people when he worked at a call centre. They might have shared their anxieties about what they were going to do in between asking about a product warranty or something and he gets an idea--why don't I tell them to come here where we can take care of them? They don't have much but we can do a lot with what they have and it will work out for everyone.

      Let me know what you think after you go. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Well MC, I'm surprised. Not even a reservation on a beach house in Ecuador? Seriously, the way these Central American countries are gearing up for us, it seems a shame not to take part. I think there is something to be said for spending a few months in one country, a few months in another country and so on like a pre-retirement "time share" experience.

      Thank you for the visit. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Arb, wasn't it fun. What I like about Maggach's books is that she starts like we all do here at HP--hmmm that's interesting, I wonder what it would be like to write about that--hmmm...and then she puts together this incredible story around the the subject. Sort of like Miles Davis' advice--"Don't play whats there, play what's not there."

      Thank you for the positive comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. =:)

    • profile image

      Ana Louis 

      6 years ago

      A very well orchestrated arrangement of information. I throughly enjoyed this hub from start to finish,and learned a few things along the way. Looking forward to seening this movie.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      6 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      We went an saw this it is everything you say it is. Complete entertainment. I did not come home and make reservations to go to India.

    • arb profile image


      6 years ago from oregon

      Geez winsome, what an undertaking. this was a lot of work. We went to see this about 4 days ago and it was, simply delightful. You were true to the story and did an admirable job. Job well done. Voted up and across.


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