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‘Slumdog’ Star Dev Patel Takes On Retirement Comedy

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
May 4, 2012

The new film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, takes a humorous look at retirement. It opens in select U.S. cities on Friday, and it follows a group of British senior citizens who travel to Jaipur, India, hoping to spend their retirement years in an inexpensive but luxurious hotel. However, they quickly learn that it’s not quite the palace they saw in the brochure.

The brochure was photoshopped by Sonny Kapoor — the young and endlessly optimistic hotel manager. He inherited the ramshackle real estate from his late father, and he dreams of transforming it into an elegant resort for “the elderly and beautiful,” as he calls the retirees.

Sonny is played by British-born actor Dev Patel. He starred in the Oscar-winning 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, the 2010 film The Last Airbender. Patel got his big break in the British television series Skins, and teams up with an all-star lineup of veteran British actors in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In an interview with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Patel explains that once he started reading the script, he knew that he could have some fun as Sonny. Patel aimed to make the character “annoyingly adorable.”

Sonny is “kind of a mad mess who is untamed,” says Patel. And when the character gets into trouble, he responds with his motto, “Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”

He feeds that line to the newly arrived retirees, particularly as they see incomplete paint jobs on hotel walls, missing doors on rooms, and phones and plumbing that do not work. He also says it to his beautiful girlfriend, Sunaina (played by Tena Desae), who is trying to win the approval of Sonny’s very traditional mother. Patel has nothing but praise for Desae, saying “I do not do a movie unless the woman is stupidly out of my league.”

Patel also enjoyed working with Oscar-nominated director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and an all-star cast: Oscar-winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson, Golden Globe nominee Bill Nighy, as well as Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie.

“They’ve been acting since I was a fetus – I don’t know – I mean they’ve just been around for so long and they’ve seen it all,” Patel says. “And I’m like, ‘What have I got to offer?’ “

But the nerves disappeared as soon as Patel flew to India and met the cast. “Literally, they’re the coolest bunch of people I’ve ever met,” he says.

Reflecting on Slumdog Millionaire

Patel’s first major film was Slumdog Millionaire, which focuses on teenager Jamal from the slums of Mumbai. He competes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and correctly answers questions by drawing upon his often tragic personal history.

In the wake of the film’s phenomenal success, audiences questioned whether director Danny Boyle did enough to give back to the young Indian children who also starred in the movie.

“Obviously, when you’re doing a movie that’s so big, there’s this massive magnification that’s put on it, and everyone’s trying to find a kind of chink in the armor, I guess, of this kind of big movie, you know” Patel says, “which is sad because, you know, in this case, they went to crazy extents to kind of do this.”

Reflecting on The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender follows Aang, a child tasked with stopping the Fire Nation from enslaving the Air, Earth and Water Nations. The film is based on the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original story featured Asian characters, but the film adaptation featured only one Asian actor: Patel. He played Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.

“It made me realize that when you’re doing these big films, you become really small in the process of this, you know, this big mechanical machine – this studio movie,” Patel says.

Patel says that he was a massive fan of the cartoon and also took martial arts for eight years. He points out that Prince Zuko is the villain at the beginning of the series, but he later becomes a hero and a fan favorite. And so, Patel was happy to take on the role – the “coolest role,” he notes. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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