By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
Few screenwriters have the privilege of writing for the acting legends Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie. Ol Parker not only provided the dialogue for these esteemed actors for the 2011 sleeper hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” but he got the chance to do it again.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” picks up where the original romantic comedy left off, delving deeper into the lives of feisty British ex-pats living in a not-quite-luxury hotel in India, and the fidgety young owner of the hotel (Dev Patel reprising the role of Sonny).
As a change of pace, the film opens not in Asia, but on Route 66, with Sonny and Smith’s Muriel Donnelly zooming to a business meeting in a convertible. Sonny’s senior housing experiment has proven a success back home in India, and he wants to open a second hotel. Engaged to his beloved Sunaina (Tena Desai, reprising her role), he hopes to build on their security by partnering with an American hotel chain to help finance the purchase and renovation of the second location. With just a minor hiccup in the meeting, Sonny and Muriel return to India cautiously optimistic that the deal will close.
When a handsome, older American gent arrives soon after, Sonny suspects he may be an undercover inspector sent by his potential partners, and he fawns over the guest in hopes of securing a good review, pretty much ignoring another new guest (Tamsin Greig), who has some secrets of her own. The dashing new male guest calls himself Guy Chambers (silver-haired but still handsome Richard Gere), who claims to be a novelist looking for a quiet place to write his book. He begins to draw inspiration from Sonny’s widowed mom (Lillete Dubey), who isn’t quite sure she’s ready for romance again. The story, this time around, revolves around the intricate wedding preparations, Indian-style, for Sonny and Sunaina.
The key, Parker says, was finding another story grand enough to tell, without making it like a TV series episode. He credits director John Madden, who also helmed the first one, for getting him over a temporary writer’s block while writing the sequel.
Parker, who is married to BAFTA award-winning actress Thandie Newton (“Crash,” “The Pursuit of Happyness”), with whom he has three children, says he realized the original “Marigold Hotel” had struck a chord with a broad audience (beyond the senior citizen base) when his 12-year-old daughter, Ripley, told him that all her friends had seen it and she wanted to see it too.
The London native recently spoke by phone about revisiting the “Marigold Hotel,” working with “The Dames” again and writing Gere into the script.