Outsource the Elderly: On the Origins of 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' Starring Judi Dench

Judi Dench and Celia Imrie in ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’/Photo © Ishika Mohan/Twentieth Century Fox
Judi Dench and Celia Imrie in ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’/Photo © Ishika Mohan/Twentieth Century Fox

Deborah Moggach is the author of sixteen successful novels including most recently These Foolish Things and the best-selling Tulip Fever. No stranger to on-screen entertainment, she wrote the screenplays for the film of "Pride and Prejudice" and TV's acclaimed "Love in a Cold Climate." Here, she shares the tale of the beginning of her novel These Foolish Things, which is now hitting the big screen as "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" starring Judi Dench with Signature.

I've written many novels but this one started somewhat differently. Usually my books are triggered by some conversation, by a painting, by the sight of somebody in the street. This one originated in a big, almost political idea: Who's going to care for us when we get older? We all know that the developed world has an ageing population and there's not enough money to pay for us all - we're living too damn long and we're going to bankrupt our economy. Mulling this over, I had an idea: We outsource everything else, so why not outsource the elderly? India struck me as the perfect place. It's warm - very good for arthritic bones; it's cheap; English is widely spoken; old people are treated with respect there and are part of society, not shunted off into care homes; flights are now very affordable and families are so globalized that grandchildren are just as likely to visit us in India as anywhere else - more so, in fact, as India is so exotic and interesting. Really, what's not to like?

So I wrote a novel, originally called These Foolish Things, which told the story of a group of British pensioners who, for various reasons, find themselves settling into a retirement hotel in India. And eight years later, under its new title The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it's been made into a film. It's been a thrilling process, seeing this happening. After various false starts suddenly the project came together, with a stellar cast - Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton, and, as the hapless hotel proprietor, Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame. The director John Madden came on board, and he brought a profound understanding to the message of the story - a message that tells us that it's never to late to change your life, to be open to new experiences and adventures. The transformative magic of India not only informed our story but profoundly affected our cast as they found themselves in the chaos and clamour of the subcontinent.

I flew out to watch the filming. Though our hotel was set in the city it was actually located in the middle of the Rajastani countryside, one and a half hours' drive from the nearest town. When I arrived, I found myself surrounded by tents, trailers, and hundreds of extras. The cast were resting between takes; they sat in a row of chairs, shaded from the sun by men holding parasols. As I approached they all jumped up and embraced me, saying, "We wouldn't be here if it weren't for your wonderful book." Music to my ears - and true, of course. For while a film might involve many hundreds of people - indeed, many thousands once it opens in cinemas -- none of them would be there if I hadn't had that seemingly mad idea in my study in London.

And the weird thing is that fact is following fiction. Retirement homes are springing up in developing countries - India, the Philippines - just as my book predicted. Soon, I suspect, it will be big business. I, for one, am certainly going to sign up. I suspect I'll have the time of my life. As, indeed, people seem to be having when they go and see the film. Did I say, by the way, that it's a comedy? Sitting in a cinema, hearing the roars of recognition and laughter, has been the best reward I could have imagined.