CULTURE

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director John Madden takes us behind the scenes of his comedy shot in India.


“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.”

On Set: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“This is Dev Patel (Sonny) aboard a bus, where he probably had no business being. He’s as expressive with his limbs as any actor I’ve ever worked with.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario

“In the streets of Jaipur, Judi Dench (Evelyn), Celia Imrie (Madge), and Bill Nighy (Douglas) before what was probably their 15th take in a tuk-tuk during the final leg of their journey to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario

“This is Ronald Pickup as Norman at Jantar Mantar, Jaipur’s extraordinary observatory. Norman seems less interested in the astonishing geometric devices than in the gaggle of women who’ve come to see them.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario

“Actors Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, and Tom Wilkinson await their turn to wrestle with the rush-hour traffic.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario

“The movie’s discovery: the young Indian actress Tena Desai, who plays Sonny’s girlfriend, Sunaina. She’s so talented and beautiful—a complete natural. This is her first big film.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario

“Screenwriter Ol Parker (in black shirt) discusses a tracking shot at the Jantar Mantar Observatory.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario

“Cinematographer Ben Davis (right) and I compare notes on the film’s closing shot while pondering the signifigance of a cow wandering unexpectedly into the frame.”

Photographer: Lynsey Addario
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Director John Madden takes us behind the scenes of his comedy shot in India.