“I’d never completely understood the phrase ‘culture shock’ until I arrived in India,” says John Madden, director of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The film is a fish-out-of-water comedy that follows seven English retirees—portrayed by an illustrious cast of British talent, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson—who board a plane to Jaipur to embark upon the third act of their lives. Their destination, the titular hotel, caters to elderly foreigners but is managed by the hopelessly inexperienced Sonny (Dev Patel), who attempts to make up for with brio and bluster what the accommodations lack in polish, service, and functional plumbing. Many of the street scenes were shot in Jaipur (“quite a mad city to film in,” Madden says), though the hotel—once a tribal chieftain’s palace but long since gone to pot—is situated outside Udaipur, several hundred miles to the southwest. Madden calls the dilapidated hotel “the heart of the story, a living character in the narrative”—much like the set of Shakespeare in Love, the director’s Oscar-winning 1998 film. With its distinctive chambers, labyrinthine twists and turns, and charming (if occasionally irksome) quirks, the architecture of the hotel echoes that of the film, which weaves together the arcs and subplots of each of the players—from the tragic to the triumphant—while allowing the deep cast of gifted comedic actors to come together in scenes of Robert Altman–esque cacophony. “Once we found the place,” Madden says, “we had to write the script around it. It’s just magical.”
Director John Madden takes us behind the scenes of his comedy shot in India.