The lovable expats in India are back in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
With most of the returning cast, the sequel immediately takes place after “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” with everyone permanently adjusted to the life of India and the preparation of Sonny Kapoor and Sunaina’s wedding. In addition, Sonny has elaborate plans to expand his business towards a second location.
Returning cast members include Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celie Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle. Richard Gere joins the cast as the mysterious traveler.
Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with director John Madden to discuss the film being released this week for home video. We talked a lot about the development of the sequel, cast members and the Indian culture.
“Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download today.
Read the interview transcript below.
Latino-Review: Let’s talk about this “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” I want to know why “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” deserves a sequel in the first place.
John Madden: I supposed there were feelings discussed amongst everybody. As you probably know, this was something we didn’t expect to happen. To be honest, the British contingent, the creative core of Ol Parker, myself and Greg went “Whooooaaaa!” It feels like a very commercial thing to do.
The conversation began very gently by Fox Searhlight. I would like point out that I’ve never made a sequel before this. Basically, they said, “Look. You have a group of people here who have made a very, very powerful connection with an audience. It’s much bigger and wider than we’ve ever expected.” We said, “That’s true and that’s great.” Then they asked, “Have you ever considered continuing the story?”
That’s really the key to it. We said frankly and flatly that we didn’t want to make the same film again. It can’t be just another version of the first film, because that’s just not interesting. That would be blatantly a commercial premise [to the project].
If we could investigate to see if there’s a story to tell, then we might be interested. We realized very quickly that the first film was completely open-ended. You can say that the first film took a group of people and followed them into a very big randomness with destabilizing decisions. They go live their lives somewhere else into a country they’ve never been into. This film also detailed the collision of the two cultures. It ended with them finding community.
So you can argue that the ending of the film is the beginning of another film with them deciding to stay and building a life there. Once we observed that, it started to become clear that there can be a continuation and conclusion of the story. I see the two halves belonging to one another. The two stories span a journey for each of them.
Given for what it was—we had the license to say “No, we don’t want to do this.” The actors also had the license to say, “That they’re not interested. That’s great. We’ve done it.” Actually, everybody was very opened to it. Everybody can still bail if we get a script that says it’s not worth making. Obviously, we couldn’t write it if we don’t know that they’re all potentially going to be a part of it. It must involve everybody in it.
Once we got to that threshold, everybody jumped in. End of story, the studio was very happy with the script. We went ahead and made it. I’m happy to say that it found an audience.
Latino-Review: This movie has to be special for you since this is your first and only sequel for you.
John Madden: It is. It’s a very interesting concept. Of course, it’s a very familiar path now. One can easily scream at and go “Really? Aren’t there better things to do?” In time, there’s a creative opportunity. It makes an interesting comparison with television, which is what I grew up in professionally and worked again recently.
This is creatively becoming a phenomenon. I’m talking about that long-running dramatic series that creates that connection with an audience. It becomes the collaboration with that audience. You’re playing to, writing to and working with the expectations that the audience already has. It’s a long formed drama that goes back to the Greeks, which leads to the higher manifestation it’ll have.
Making the sequel is a word I would never use. I would always use a companion piece really or rather as the second half. It was very challenging and interesting in that respect. There were assumptions from the audience on the people, humor, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That becomes very interesting to write with. You can jump straight into a story without having a lot of time setting it up.
Particularly with this group of people, by general consent, the cast is absolutely at the top of their game and range due to their collective experience. It goes into the hundreds of years, doesn’t it? The chance to write for those people in time was a wonderful challenge.
Latino-Review: Tell about the development of the script with Ol [Parker] and balancing all these different subplots with all the characters.
John Madden: Well, there are! We’ve discovered all of this the first time. It’s like this breeding process. It’s an ensemble that shares the big experience in India, the geography on the place where they live. It’s the sense that all of the stories seem to penetrate with one another. They glide past one another and bounce off one another.
It’s a highly a collaborative process between Ol and me. In this instance, we’ve shared the experience since the first film. We were used to the geographical features and the way on the place works. It’s very organic in that respect. Therefore, we understood on where we were putting our feet into the second time around. We were even lucky the first time around to know that actors we were going to work with. We were writing with their voices—very specifically in mind. And even more so the second time around.
We had a structure that was sitting there for us. Of course, we hadn’t anticipated this since we didn’t know we’re making the second one. We had a wedding prospect at the ending of the first film. A wedding in India, as you must know, is a massive changing event—not only for the people who are getting married—but everybody else too. It takes years to make these plans. It takes many Rupees to make it happen. They tend to be these giant socializing experiences. It’s a very emotional journey for the people as a whole.
Once we understood that, one would think it would be reserved for the last act of the film. It’ll be the conclusion like a Shakespearean comedy, which is always our model. They always conclude it in the fifth act with a wedding.
I said to Ol, “This wedding should be the whole film.” It sort of happens with an Indian wedding, because it seems to go on forever. [Laughter] That scene is quite an enjoyable concept.
We can have all [the characters] in individual stories, but bring them all together in [one common story]. That’s the common thread.
Latino-Review: Tell me about bringing most of the actors back on to this project. In fact, you even brought Richard Gere on board.
John Madden: We got all the actors back. The only one who couldn’t come back was Tom Wilkinson, because he died in the first film. [Laughter] But, all the other actors came back.
The large and small parts, including the Indian actors who had significant roles are back. For example, the girl who plays Anokhi, [Seema Azmi], who makes this connection to Muriel, Maggie Smith’s character, is in this movie. I’m very lucky to get that actress back. She’s a very distinguished actress with a career of her own. I had to tell her bluntly that I couldn’t give her character a full story like the first time around. She is still a very important part of Maggie’s life and I can’t make it without her there. So she came back to do it.
It was quite a big asking of people. It wasn’t a film where you could say that you’re in for a week and then you’re out. Richard came in for the whole shoot as did everybody. They have to since they’re all in the background of everyone else’s stories. [Laughter] They will bump into each other and then have a big scene in which everyone has one line.
It was a real commitment from everybody, but an easy one. I think there is an intoxicating factor with making a film in India. It included the Indians from our lot being in their midst. It was a very special experience for everybody.
Latino-Review: You did utilize more of the Indian culture, particularly the Indian wedding. I just adored and loved on how you choreographed the dance scenes. It’s very Bollywoodish—per se.
John Madden: That was very important to me. I’m completely bewitched by that genre. It’s such an extraordinary thing from a Western perspective. It sort of combines that opera, rock music, low culture and high culture all at the same time. It has that outrageous narrative style with the heightened story that everything stopped suddenly. It’s very exuberant and intoxicating.
I just love that music. I can listen to the music for a great length at a time. It’s incredibly energizing and incredibly funky. At its best, it’s really outstanding. It’s a marvelous thing to say that at the climax at every Indian wedding will be some kind of set piece framed around a Bollywood number.
People will see this as a standard practice now. They will hire a choreographer with both families to submit to rehearsal periods, often weeks beforehand, to stage a number. It’s not necessarily a Bollywood number, but something at the wedding. The climax of a wedding is frequently that.
And often, it is recorded as a movie of the wedding. It’s a real cultural phenomenon now. That was irresistible to me. It gave us a very prolonged climax of one kind, since obviously there are other stories playing off of that.
I see the second film as a conclusion and celebration as the epiphany of everything the first film set up. It’s also the fact that music and dance are intrinsic to it. It really meant that this movie will look and feel very different from the first film.
As you said, it was more Indian. It’s a tribute to these people who decided to live there and adjust to the lives there. It’s all about becoming a part of that world and that culture.
Latino-Review: Absolutely, you’ve done a terrific job. I do wonder is that if you had Deborah Moggach’s blessing.
John Madden: We did. Obviously, the first film was loosely an adaptation of her book. It had this hilarious and marvelous idea at the core of it. We did talk to her about it. The general agreement was that there was the source material for the continuation of the story. We had developed our own take on some of the characters. In some cases, the characters weren’t even in the book. Deborah basically gave us her blessings. She gave us that “Do what you need to do sort of thing.”
Ol Parker and I had the whole thing in our bones. It wasn’t a difficult or arduous process in writing the script. It came very naturally.
Latino-Review: Well, thank you for this conversation.
John Madden: Thank you.
“Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download today.