I Almost Met a Celebrity

Best MarigoldThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charming British film released in mid-2012 which portrays the lives of a group of British retirees who move to Jaipur. Each makes the choice to move for different reasons:  distressed finances, adventure or to fill a hole in a not quite satisfactory life. None of them move for the love of India. They are all strangers, their stiff formalities ultimately melting into tentative friendships. Their relationships with India are a little more complicated.

I love this film, partly because it’s so great to see a movie that isn’t about angst ridden teenagers or beautiful people in their 20s. It’s about people over 60, people my own age, doing something that I’d love to do. Also, part of it takes place in Udaipur, and it’s wonderful seeing my favorite Indian city on the big screen. This movie reached out and almost touched me recently.

On this visit to Udaipur I was plagued with hamstring pains and had a lot of therapeutic massage trying to get rid of them. I wrote about the Ayur Santushti massage last year when I first started going there. One day after my massage, I was waiting for my rickshaw driver out front when a petite, soft spoken older woman approached the office and inquired about a massage for her adult son. She was very polite and mentioned that she had been here two years ago and had had a wonderful massage. I stared surreptitiously. The woman was Celia Imrie, who had played the character of Madge Hardcastle in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!

IMG_9947 ssI never want to be one of those pain-in-the-ass fans who pester famous people, so I respected her privacy and didn’t say a word to her. The next day, Anita, my masseuse, confirmed the sighting.

“Do you remember the lady who came yesterday as you were leaving?” Anita asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“She is an actress.” Anita handed me a piece of paper on which Ms. Imrie had written Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In hindsight, staying silent was a mistake, and I regretted it. Ms. Imrie is not an instantly recognizable celebrity. I doubt she is constantly hounded by fans for autographs everywhere she goes. She might well have appreciated a few words from someone like me who enjoyed her performance and the film. The fact that she told Anita she is an actress and wrote the name of the movie down make me wish I had spoken to her.

That near not meeting led me to do a bit of research after I returned home, where I discovered that Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2 is under way. That was why Ms. Imrie was in Udaipur in February at the same time that I was. The sequel was in the process of being filmed at the time!

I look forward to the sequel, and if I see any other movies stars the next time I’m in Udaipur, I’ll definitely say hello.

Update:  The Second Best Marigold Hotel is due to be released in theaters in the U.S. on March 6, 2015.





Play It Again, Sanjay

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In the city of virtually no nightlife, Udaipur does have cinemas, although I’ve only gone there in the afternoon. Celebration Mall, Udaipur’s first and largest indoor shopatorium, has a PVR cineplex offering quite a cushy moviegoing experience. The seats are large, overstuffed recliner-types with cupholders. Each seat has its own armrests, so there’s no elbow jousting with whoever is seated on either side of you. Some of the seats even have electric reclining adjustments, making it as close to watching a movie lying down as possible. It also makes it easy for me to take a nap if I don’t happen to care for the movie.

To get in, you go through a security check at the mall entrance, then another one at the cinema entrance where they check your bag for cameras so that idiots don’t record the film and post it on a torrent site. I’m a tourist, and I always carry a camera, but after Nirmal spoke nicely with the security guard, she let me in with it. So as not to get her into trouble, I was unable to photograph the theater lobby.

The Udaipur moviegoing experience was much more relaxed than the one I had at the Raj Mandir Cinema in Jaipur. There the Fascist usher insisted that everyone sit in their assigned seats, and a mountain of trouble was heaped onto the heads of anyone caught not in their proper seat. In Udaipur the ushers just waved you in the general direction of your seat and let the patrons sort out any conflicts in assigned seating.

After the movie trailers, there are two public service clips. The first one attempts to educate theater goers on cell phone etiquette, specifically, don’t use your phone during the movie. It’s completely ineffective. Blabbing loudly on cell phones during the movie happens a lot, much more in Indian movie houses than in the U.S. It’s the one thing my friends do that I wish they wouldn’t. But nobody wants a nursemaid as a friend, so I kept my yap shut about it. Hard to convince them not to do something that pretty much everyone else around them is doing, no matter how annoying it is.

The second is an aggressive anti-smoking video showing graphic photos of blackened and diseased lungs. I couldn’t even look at it. It is also ineffective, as Indians smoke like chimneys, including two of my three friends.

In 2005 the Indian Health Ministry, recognizing the influence actors and actresses have on popular culture, banned the showing of smoking by characters in films. They hoped that by eliminating the glamorization of smoking by movie characters, it would reduce the popularity of smoking by citizens. It didn’t work. People smoked as much as ever, and moviemakers railed against the ban. The ban was overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009. What remains is the compulsory showing of the anti-smoking video at the beginning, the intermission and the end of films.

We saw two movies when I was in Udaipur last time:  Jai Ho and Gunday.  Jai Ho I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and everything about it was over the top. A great big thumbs down on that one. Gunday had a storyline that was much easier to make sense of, despite the fact that I don’t speak Hindi. There were two amazingly excellent child actors who ran the gamut of emotions quite believably rather than simply being put there to be insufferably precocious. Cinematography, excellent. Costumes, choreography, songs, all excellent. Production values, excellent. Characters and storyline fairly good, although it basically glamorized criminals. They weren’t really bad criminals, of course. They were only thieves, and they only killed a couple of people who kind of had it coming, but they redeemed themselves by giving tons of their ill gotten gains to charity. I object to that premise but overall, I still liked the movie.

Some Bollywood films I enjoy, although many I don’t. They typically run an exhausting three hours, an hour longer than the average American movie. While U.S. movies are more apt to fall into a defined category, Bollywood films try to be all things to all people, which I think is a mistake. Even action films will have singing and dancing (which in an action film is terribly out of place), comedy and a smattering of tear jerking. The comedy is forced and often slapstick, a problem I also have with the majority of U.S. comedy movies. I also don’t like having my action movie hero boo hooing all over the place to show us how sensitive he is like in Gunday. He should get mad, he should get even — and then some — and that’s it.

But what I really can’t buy is that Bollywood heroes are often fighting 137 enemies at once, each of which will politely wait in line to have a go at him instead of rushing him in a group and tearing him to pieces. He of course beats the crap out of each and every one of them. Oh, come on! U.S. films have the hero only fighting five to seven enemies at a time and beating the crap out of all of them. Much more believable…

Don’t Order the Pizza

Three out of four of my trips to India have involved a urinary tract infection. This may seem like too much information to you, but I offer it in the spirit of public service. Women suffer from this condition more than men, so this is something I’m confident my women readers’ inquiring minds will want to know. In India, I’m firmly convinced that the lack of decent public toilet facilities in most places is a huge contributing factor.

Ladies, if you’re used to using toilet paper, bring your own. While even two-star hotels will provide it, they won’t provide much. Backpacker hovels (not a typo) won’t, and most public toilets won’t, but you can easily buy it locally. I’m just saying, don’t leave your hotel without it.

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Nirmal giving Rafiq an update on my condition.

Anyway, about the third or fourth day of my last visit, the unmistakable symptoms of a UTI rear their ugly heads. Nirmal takes me to a doctor and then to a clinic for tests. The clinic is relatively new, sparkling, very professional, and also very low cost. I’d been there the previous year. So, ladies, while you may not be able to find a decent public toilet in India in some areas, medical care will be easy to find, and it’ll be on a par with medical care in any of the wealthier nations. If you get sick, there’s nothing to worry about.

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Daiji footbridge from the old city center (left side) to the Naga Nagri neighborhood (on the right).

Afterwards, we went to the Little Prince Restaurant for lunch. The Little Prince is on the Naga Nagri peninsula, across the lake from the old city center where the City Palace is. It’s right near the Daiji footbridge at the water’s edge.

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The Little Prince is a nice place to hang out in comfortable rattan chairs, have tea and enjoy the lake view. Some people think it’s overpriced, and it may well be. Anywhere that has a nice view, you pay  more.


All I’m saying is, under no circumstances order the pizza. Worst slop I’ve ever encountered.

Badi Lake

Nirmal wanted me to see Badi Lake, also known as Tiger Lake, 11 km beyond the western fringe of Udaipur. We went in an auto rickshaw. It was only slightly warm and I hadn’t put on a shawl or socks, which turned out to be a mistake. Rickshaws are open, and in February the breeze from even its slowest movement was chilly.

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Monsoon Palace

On the way we passed by the Monsoon Palace, high on a hill above us. We had had intentions of going there, but because it was the wedding season, that threw a monkey wrench into our plans. (Every time I’ve visited India, someone says it’s the wedding season. Every time I hear that, I say, “Wedding season in India is January to December.”)  Because of the wedding season, all taxis were busy and we couldn’t get a ride. Rickshaws can’t get to the Monsoon Palace because they’re so underpowered, they can’t manage the steep climb.

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Badi Lake

Badi Lake, like the other lakes of Udaipur, is manmade, created as a reservoir to capture precious rainwater during the monsoon. It’s far more attractive during the rainy season when surrounding hillsides are carpeted in green, shown in some striking pictures on UdaipurOgraphy. It is much cleaner than the lakes within the Udaipur city limits because of its isolation and lack of development.  I was glad I hadn’t read anything about Badi Lake on the internet before I went there, so I had no expectations. Everything that I read afterwards was, to be kind, highly inaccurate.

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I read that it’s a “don’t miss” destination. Apart from some ghats leading up to three kiosks, bare of anything but pigeon crap, there’s absolutely nothing out there. No village, no walking trails, no roadside food stands, no boat rides, no toilets, no benches. Apart from Nirmal, me, and our rickshaw driver, there were also no people. I guess a lot of people were missing this nothing destination.

I read a blurb encouraging people to rent a bike or motorcycle and take an “exciting” ride to a beautiful destination. There must be more than one way to get there. My “exciting” ride wound past several places where heaps of garbage were dumped by the roadside.

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It is pretty, and it is a quiet place to escape the noisy city center. It’s quiet because it’s desolate, there’s no one there and there’s absolutely nothing to do.

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Five minutes of quiet was enough for me, and I was ready to go. A “don’t miss” destination? I love Udaipur, and I love to promote it, but let’s not get carried away. Yeah, you can miss it.