Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Real Marigold Hotel

Those marigolds again

A couple of weeks ago we happened to watch The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the sequel to (obviously) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film about a group of old folk who choose to spend their retirement in a dilapidated hotel in India. The second part - with added Richard Gere - was so colourful and vibrant that for the first time I felt a proper yearning to go to India. Maybe I've been starved of foreign culture for too long. Maybe the cooking aromas from the curry house round the corner were particularly strong that day. Or maybe India really is that wonderful. Could a trip there work with a five-year-old? Would there be too much heat, too much spicy food, too much hassle, too much dysentery?

The curry house does bad puns for the Tour de France

To help us decide, now we have the Real Marigold Hotel in the "real" India. It's going to show you the slums, the stench and the sweat. Instead of the grand dames of British acting Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in a sort of Downton Mumbai, it's a D-list of celebrities packing their pills, dresses and Vegemite into suitcases and heading off for a three-week experiment in Jaipur. Their aim is to see whether it really is practical and possible to retire to India, as the characters did in the films.

The practical side of things soon goes out the window - the trip is definitely more of an extended holiday, with some attempt to get to know the locals. The celebs don't make any effort to register with the authorities or work out how to get their pensions paid or their repeat prescriptions filled. Because that wouldn't make interesting telly. Whereas seeing them try to negotiate their way between the crazy traffic and cows on the streets, shop at a crowded market and find a public toilet when caught short in said market does. Unlike their thespian counterparts, they do stick out like very British sore thumbs. "Do you speak English?" they boom in panic.

And there is a lot of panicking, at least amongst the ladies. None of them (understandably) like seeing a chicken get its throat slit for their dinner - it's a harsh realisation that poultry doesn't come pre-plucked in Marks & Spencer's packaging in Rajasthan. Cake cook Rosemary Shrager looks like she's about to have a stroke as she sets off on a trip to buy lemons and flour, bless her. Afterwards she is made to sit still and meditate. Sigh, hum, relaaaaax... It works, briefly. Wayne Sleep tries to protect the neurotic ladies from a tribe of marauding monkeys, but it's his own nuts that get nicked.

Miriam Margolyes does not do Marigolds
There are morning yoga sessions, which inspire Wayne, recovering from cancer, to discover his spiritual side. He longs to dance again, after a year of treatment. By the end of the programme he has his tap shoes on.

At least two of the team have arthritis (hence the vast amounts of pills). Patti Boulaye soon has diarrhoea. Miriam Margolyes is not apologetic for her farting, nor for her refusal to do any housework. It's quickly decided - after only one communal meal - that they need servants. But that caste system is a jolly bad thing they say, as they while away a luxurious evening drinking alcohol in their palatial haveli before going off to meet royalty.

There is no avoiding the poverty though. Darts player Bobby George makes the most astute and empathetic observations. "Until we are sitting on the floor with them, we aren't in India," he says. He is visibly moved by the plight of the poor, and the one who is most prepared to assimilate culturally, which isn't what you might expect. That's me, wrongly stereotyping darts players. Speaking of which, he's brought a board over with him, to give the locals lessons.

No one knows who Bobby is, not even the English people. Whereas the other celebrities have to get used to not being recognised. They resort to showing pictures of themselves on their phones to the locals. "I was in Harry Potter," says Miriam. "I am a ballet dancer" says Wayne Sleep. "No, not belly, ballet." "I was Doctor Who," says Sylvester McCoy. "It's been running for fifty years." He doesn't mention that he was such a bad Doctor Who that he closed the show down for 16 of them. (Sorry, Sylvester, but you killed it for me too.) He now plays the spoons.

But anonymity in their old age may be appealing. As is the low cost of living in India. They don't mind being ripped off in the market as it's all still cheap as chips to them. But both the films and the programme inadvertently raise the serious issue of how hard it can be to cope financially in retirement if you haven't got a decent pension. Especially if you haven't managed to hold on to your health, or pay off a mortgage. And they also show the pressure of communal living if you have grown used to a life of independence. (Rosemary and Miriam are clearly headed for a fight, oh yes.) I for one would not feel comfortable being flung together with a load of strangers, as you would be in any retirement village anywhere in the world. I didn't like sharing a flat aged 20 or 30, and I'm fairly sure I'd hate it even more aged 70. (Present husband's company excepted.)

And is going to live on the other side of the world, far from all your family and friends, really the answer? Is India the answer? It remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm wanting more Jan Leeming. She's been too unassuming in the background. I used to write poems about Jan Leeming when I was eight. Yes, really. I had a thing about her gold (marigold?) earrings when she read the news. No idea why.

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