In the delightful 2012 comedy “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a cast of veteran British thespians play a group of pensioners who retire to a hotel in India.
The hotel turned out to be a work in progress. The film became an unexpected hit.
Original cast members Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie check in again for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” So does Indian actress Lillete Dubey, playing the mother of Dev Patel’s Sonny Kapoor, owner and founder of the hotel that serves the “elderly and beautiful.”
The sequel opens as Sonny and Smith’s Muriel Donnelly, the hotel’s co-manager, travel to the United States seeking funds for expansion. Comedy, of course, ensues.
Sonny desperately attempts to obtain a loan. Tension builds between Sonny and his exasperated fiancée, Sunaina (Tina Desai). Despite their advanced years, Dench’s Evelyn and Nighy’s Douglas return to the workforce. And Imrie’s Madge juggles two suitors. There’s much more, too, in a sequel that moves at a much faster tempo than the original film.
“That’s very Indian,” the Mumbai-based Dubey said from London last month. “India is a lot of chaotic energy. You either love India because it has this creatively chaotic energy about it, or you don’t like it because it’s mad and it’s dirty and it’s chaotic and it’s too frantic for you. But if you get seduced by its energy. …”
In the new film, Dubey — an actress who leads her own theater company, has directed 30 plays and appeared in more than 40 films (including Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” — becomes the romantic interest of Richard Gere’s visiting American novelist.
When Dubey read the film’s script, her director’s mind naturally considered who would play the handsome American. Gere was the first of the two actors she judged right for the part. When “Marigold Hotel” director John Madden phoned Dubey to tell her Gere would indeed play the part, the actress responded coyly.
“I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice,” ’ she said. “And John said, ‘Well, you know he is quite the fantasy for a lot of middle-aged ladies.’ I said, ‘No, no. I think he’s perfectly cast.’ And it turned out to be great fun. He’s a very generous actor.”
Two of Dubey’s other co-stars, Smith and Dench, are actresses she’s admired tremendously for years.
“I’m not in their league at all, but they have kind of the same career trajectory as me because they come from the theater as well,” she said. “Very late in their careers, they moved from theater to films. And they’re not just wonderfully talented, they’re so down to earth.
“Watching them is really like a master class. I never thought I would be acting with either of them. That was a quite a thrill, doing the first film with them. And when you’re with them and they have something nice to say to you, it’s so special because it’s people you admire so much.”
In “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Smith, Dench and Dubey again co-star with Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”), the British-born actor who plays Sonny.
“Dev is like Tigger in ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ ” Dubey said. “He’s all over the place! He’s just leaping around. And he’s mad and crazy and irreverent and fearless. It’s very endearing. I adore him. I’m not the only one. Everybody on set was very fond of him.”
In addition to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” sequel, Dubey is appearing in “Indian Summers,” a 10-part series co-produced by PBS and the U.K.’s Channel 4. Set in 1932, the dramatization of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India will air in the U.S. in the fall.
“The English and the Indians, they’re always nostalgic about that period,” Dubey said. “But it’s beautifully shot, really stunning. It’s like ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ meets ‘Downton Abbey.’ ”