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Walking the red carpet with Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson

Last updated on: May 3, 2012 12:31 IST

Walking the red carpet with Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson

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Arthur J Pais in New York
When she walked the red carpet in London for the premiere of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Tena Desae was justifiably nervous.
 
The model-turned-actress, who plays a woman in love with a man from a very different social background, was worried about how her work in the film would be received.
 
"And I was walking on the red carpet on a cold and damp day with this amazing British cast. Together, they must be having hundreds of years of experience," she was musing at the recent New York premiere, where she shared the red carpet in company of some of the finest talents in the British films -- the Oscar winning director John Madden, actress Judi Dench and Oscar nominate Tom Wilkinson.
 
"I found working with the veteran artists an incredibly humbling experience," says the actress who had worked in the ill-fated Yeh Faisley in India before getting the small but plump role in Madden's film. "It was like we had a whole acting school in front of me."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which reportedly cost around $20 million, has done excellent business in many countries including the United Kingdom (about $28 million) and Australia ($15 million) and has grossed $70 million outside of North America. It is being released in over two dozen screens in North America on May 4, with more cities and screens being added in the subsequent weeks.
 
The film has received mostly mixed reviews in the United Kingdom but apparently, the audiences are enjoying it. "This is not a film for cynics," Madden says.

Image: Tena Desae
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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'Fox has had good experience with Indian-themed films'

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Fox Searchlight decided to have the premiere of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel well before its release, before the press would be consumed by summer behemoths such as The Avengers and The Dark Shadows.

A film about what some may say is unusual outsourcing -- retirement facilities for the British senior citizens -- it was adapted for the screen by Ol Parker from These Foolish Things by: Deborah Moggach and directed by Madden (The Debt, Shakespeare in Love) following many hiccups in the production, most of them related to raising the money.

Madden, Parker and producers Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin were among the talents who attended the New York premiere as well. Dev Patel was held up because of a film shooting in the United Kingdom.

"Once Fox Searchlight stepped in, things started happening very fast," said Madden who was making a film in India for the first time in his career spanning over 25 years. "Fox has had good experience with Indian-themed films."  

He was referring Deepa Mehta's Water, Mira Nair's The Namesake, and Karan Johar's My Name Is Khan.


Image: Actors Tom Wilkinson and Judi Dench
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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'In India, we have a saying: everything will be all right in the end'

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Loosely based on the novel and with one major character added to the script, Madden's film follows a group of retired people lured by advertisements for the newly-restored Marigold Hotel and filled with visions of a life of leisure.
 
They are shocked to discover the new environment is less luxurious than promised but slowly, most of them are challenged to be transformed by their shared experiences, and discover that life and love can begin again. Even the bitter wife who discovers her marriage has been dead for many years decides to let go of the past.

Among their many discoveries is the hotel's ambitiously naive young owner, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) who has inherited the once sophisticated building from his father hoping to turn it into a high end luxury hotel. But he lacks the resources to do so and his overbearing mother (Lillete Dubey) not only has different plans for the hotel but is also standing against his desire to marry a bright woman from another community.
 
'In India, we have a saying: everything will be all right in the end,' Sonny assures the disgruntled British group. 'So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.'
 
Director Madden says while he was working with a British cast he has known of for a long time, working with Dubey -- who also served as an unofficial consultant to the film on all things that were Indian -- was a delightful experience. He was particularly pleased with Dev Patel.
 
"We needed an actor with just the right blend of charisma and comic chops," he said, adding: "Dev Patel is underestimated. He is a spectacular talent. He is a comic natural -- a sort of Jacques Tati figure, with amazing physical presence and fantastic instincts."

Image: Actresses Meetu Chilana and Pooja Kumar
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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'Dev Patel is a born comedian'

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Dame Judi Dench, one of the most honoured of British artists and who is in her mid 70s, backs up Madden's enthusiasm for Dev.
 
'He's a born comedian,' she says in the production notes of the film, 'and he has the assurance of someone who has been doing this for a long, long time. We were all bewitched by him.'

Dev has said he 'taken with his character's contradictions.'

'In a nutshell, Sonny is the most disorganised person you'll ever meet in life, and at the same time, he is extremely eager to please,' he reflects in the production notes. 'He photo-shopped the brochure for the Marigold Hotel to make the place look idyllic, and now, he has to try to make the guests believe that it can become all that he has promised. At the same time, he is trying to persuade his very traditional mother that he can succeed. To complicate matters even further, he is in love with a modern girl his traditionalist mother doesn't approve of.'

As for working with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, and others from the UK, he has said. 'It was phenomenal -- and that's an understatement. It was amazing for me just to watch them. I was nervous with this weighty cast, of course, but John gave me the confidence to be free.  Even the smallest scenes were great lessons for me.'

Image: Producer Steve Gilula and writer Ol Parker
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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'When you see Dev and Tena with each other, you root for them'

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Director Madden thinks that Dev Patel was a bit overwhelmed seeing such a rich and experienced talent around him.
 
"But they (the British artists) adopted him," he says with a chuckle. "They made him very comfortable."
 
Dev also enjoyed working with the many Indian actors in the production, including Lillete Dubey as Sonny's mother, who is a conservative businesswoman. Madden thinks Dev was a bit overwhelmed by her too. "It helped that Dev was already a little afraid of her!" Madden says.

Dubey adds she empathized with Mrs Kapoor's exasperation with her son. 'Mrs Kapoor is a character I know well, because I come from Delhi originally,' she muses. 'She is an urban, middle class mother, elegant but a bit old-fashioned, who calls the shots with her three sons. There's both shading and a lot of humor to her.'

The filmmakers believe that Tena Desae has fulfilled the promise she showed in screen tests. And there was very good chemistry between Dev and her. "When you see Dev and Tena with each other you root for them to stay together,"  producer Graham Broadbent says. "Tena held her own against this highly experienced cast."

Image: Director John Madden and producer Graham Broadbent
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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