Reality TV

In ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’, 70-plus foreigners wonder whether to retire in India

The BBC reality show plonked its eight participants at the Le Colonial hotel in Kochi for a month.

The 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its 2015 sequel wowed audiences for their simple yet fun-filled storylines: a group of British retirees comes to India to see if they might like to spend their dotage in this country.

In 2016, BBC launched a reality TV series inspired by the movies. The second season of The Real Marigold Hotel recently wrapped on BBC One. It’s a sometimes-eccentric, sometimes-profound, and always-charming look at discovering India anew at a ripe old age.

The eight British/American men and women plucked for the exercise make for an eclectic bunch. These are actors Paul Nicholas, Lionel Blair and Amanda Barrie, wildlife expert Bill Oddie, chef Rustie Lee, snooker champion Dennis Taylor, doctor Miriam Stoppard, and singer Sheila Ferguson.

For a show that relies on its members falling for the charms of India, there are worse places to nestle them in than Kochi’s Le Colonial, an enchanting boutique hotel whose spartan rooms bespeak understated luxury. For one month, Le Colonial becomes the participants’ home, and the possible long-term retirement stay should the plan work.

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The Real Marigold Hotel.

It is perhaps an outcome of the age of the participants – they are all north of 70 – that they do not come to India burdened with sky-high expectations of “discovering spirituality” or “finding themselves”. Yet, India is always a surprise to the foreigner, and the show gives us a real peek into how their time here both enriches and changes them.

To Lionel, the country is at first hard to adjust to. The luxurious confines of the hotel are a stark contrast to the shanties that abut it – even though Kochi appears cleaner than most urban agglomerations to the Indian eye. On the other hand, Paul and Dennis form a boisterous friendship that takes them to Madurai and Ooty.

The most affecting story is of Sheila, formerly of the 1970s pop group Three Degrees, who has been single since the loss of her partner eight years ago. With a home in Mallorca, Spain, where she lives alone, she is keen on moving anywhere in the world that she finds love.

For a series like this, some element of exotica cannot be entirely eliminated. Shots of monkeys feeding their young and of men painted as animals make a routine appearance. To be fair, though, Kerala does have a tradition of face painting during the tiger festival and Onam, both of which are showcased here. The bird-watching, tiger-loving Bill naturally participates in the former.

The series largely skips the stereotyping. The group itself is a racially diverse bunch. In one scene, on coming across people living on the banks of the backwaters, Sheila remembers her own childhood in the American south. In another, Rustie cooks up a meal for everyone that incorporates elements from Indian cooking.

I kept wondering if the show was really about how good India would be as a retirement place. Certainly, the script repeatedly endorsed the idea, and Sheila even went looking for a flat. But in the end, everyone returned home and the retirement arc was abruptly dropped.

The joys of travel are a theme commonly refracted through the eyes of the young, a demographic that can go wherever its heart desires. The Real Marigold Hotel shows this is true for septuagenarians too. In fact, with a life fully lived and the prospect of death on the horizon, the old can glean pleasures from travel that the young can only imagine.

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The Real Marigold Hotel.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.