Tina Desai is an Indian actress and model. She debuted with the 2011 Hindi thriller film Yeh Faasley and went on to star in the action-comedy Sahi Dhandhe Galat Bande, before making her international debut in the 2012 comedy-drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where she plays Sunaina, a role she reprises in 2015's The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Also reprising her role in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, returning as Mrs Kapoor, is Lillete Dubey, an acclaimed Indian actress, whose international work includes Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair and Indian Summers, among others.
- How did it feel turning down Richard Gere on screen, Lillete?
Lillete Dubey: It felt very natural (laughs). No, it's no big deal. I liked it in the script. In the first film there wasn't that much for her, except I did try to bring in her vulnerability, that her being a tough biddy was all about her love for her son. So I was trying to keep a little space there towards the end when she softens a bit.
So within that framework, when Richard Gere's character arrives she was not just going to fall apart. It made sense for her to be a little cool and she hadn't been intimate for a long time. It fitted the character to be uncomfortable and awkward with this whole thing. It would have been very strange for her to have to have succumbed easily.
Tina Desai: [Director] John Madden was saying that when Richard Gere walks into that courtyard it is only natural for all heads to swivel around, but in the film you can see that Lillete's character is just walking past. She totally ignores him. That is very funny. But that is very true of an Indian woman who has lost her husband however many years ago; she would not pay attention to a guy. She'd just get on with her life. She'd just resign herself to the fact she is not going to get married again. It is very interesting that she did succumb in the end.
LD: When I said it was very natural I meant for the character it was very natural to do that. We are talking about Richard Gere, this big superstar from Hollywood and a big charmer but in the film he is just a good-looking guy who comes to this place. And this lady is busy doing her own thing and her mind doesn't go that way. She is not going to go all sweet. She is not some little young thing swooning over some good-looking guy who comes into the hotel, so I liked it. I liked the character because it made sense to me for her to be cool and not all weak at the knees.
- How did you enjoy working with Richard?
LD: It was lovely because he is a very easy-going person, for all his stardom, and very down to earth. He is a charming, very affectionate person and he is Buddhist, so he has this lovely calm quality and he laughs a lot. I laugh a lot and I liked that.
He is also a very generous co-actor, ready to work, and he enjoys the profession so it was great fun and a delight. In fact, he said, 'I wish we had more scenes because we don't have that many together really,' so it was great fun.
- Was making this film a very different experience from the first movie?
TD: This felt like were even more of a family. The first one, I think, everyone had a genuinely very good time. It was a teary farewell for everyone; it was just an extremely emotional and intimate experience and that is saying a lot because all of them have done a lot of films. But with this one, whenever we went on the set we had someone's family or friend visiting and everyone was so happy. Everyone. That is how the set was.
Everyone had guests and that is how special it was.
Also, it was even more relaxed because everyone loved India so much the first time. I felt like a tour guide on the first one, telling them where to go shopping, where to go visiting and everything. But in the second one they were telling me where to go and shop and eat. That is how much they had accepted India and loved India and they chose to travel between and after the shoot. I think this one was an experience for everyone. Like with the characters, it had become home. Nobody wanted to go back if they had a break. They would stay in India, which was wonderful.
- Could there be a third film perhaps?
TD: I don't know. As I said, the first film was a tearful farewell and we were joking at the end of it that the only way we would all meet again was if we did a sequel. And so when they announced the sequel we were, 'What! We were only joking and it is now actually happening?' So we were thrilled to bits when the second one was announced. Now I am hoping that one comes out every two years. But I am not sure!
- How was the first film received in India? You can't speak for the whole country, but in general terms
TD: I think a lot more people watched it on planes and on DVDs after the film was released. Perhaps not so many watched it when it was released in theatres but everyone does love it. Slumdog Millionaire I think was trashed a little more in India because that showed the poorer side of Bombay. You are showing a slum boy. But Marigold shows the rich and the poor. They are showing the crumbling ruins of the Marigold Hotel but they are also showing other sides to the country as well. The Marigold films have that mix - they show what India is and there is no prejudice.
LD: A lot of people in India are not that into non-Indian films or Western films. They do see some, maybe the very big blockbusters like Transformers or The Avengers or James Bond, but Marigold is one of the gentler films. It was for a certain section of society. Let's say the upper middle class and they saw it and they enjoyed it very much. I had lots of friends who loved it but it was not a mass film. It got decent reviews.
I had a journalist friend who said, 'Why didn't you have a bigger part?' But it is not about me. It has got Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, all these people. I know what my part was when I took it. They weren't unfair to me! A lot more people saw it travelling on planes. But I've met a lot of non-Indians from all over the world who had seen it and loved it.
TD: Whoever has seen it has loved it. It has enjoyed a positive reaction; there has been no negative reaction.
LD: It is such a positive film, an affirmative film. Everything is possible. Anything is possible at any time and at any time in life. That's such an affirmative kind of feeling. For me, that is what the film is all about aside from the great actors, great director, and the script. It is the theme that anything is possible. You can be 80, 18, 40 and you can screw it all up and still bounce back. Everything is possible. You are not dead until you are in that grave so don't close the book. Don't give up. That is what it means to me.
- What has the first film done for your careers? You have since done Indian Summers, Lilette
LD: Yes, I have been doing Indian Summers, which is very exciting. I had already got two films before that, including an Indo-Italian film I am doing with an Italian director and with an Italian actor who is the main lead, but there are a couple of Indian actors in there as well. I am really hoping that Indian Summers will get four more seasons because it is looking stunning. Absolutely. It is shot like a film. So if that happens, and that has four more seasons in Penang over the next four years, that'd be great.
- How different is it working in India compared to the West?
TD: It is interesting to work in India and abroad because obviously the films in India you understand without having to try. You understand the writing and the characters but when you come to the West everything is so different, their method of thinking and everything. It is all so different. What you realize at the end is that there are no rules. You see things so differently.
Usually, you grow up imagining the dialogue to be said in a certain way or scenes to be shot in a certain way but when you see it done so differently in a different perspective it opens up your mind and allows you to try new things. It is a great thing to have the comforts of home and your home cinema, something that comes to you without trying, and then to have this opportunity where you learn, grow and experiment and speak differently. They have a very different sensibility, even the way the dialogue is delivered.
LD: The Indian film industry is very, very vibrant. It is a mix like it is in Hollywood - there is a lot of highly commercial cinema.
TD: We have even made two superhero movies!
LD: Our main blockbusters are kind of like Bond films. There is action, babes, romance - everything altogether. Indian films are made for people who are spending their hard-earned money to escape. They don't want too much reality. They want to see the world that they will never see. They live vicariously - fast cars, Switzerland, Naples!
And why shouldn't it be like that? People spending their hard-earned money don't want to see the misery of their own life. They want to see something larger than life, so our industry caters a lot to that sensibility.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is out on Digital HD 22nd June and on Blu-ray and DVD from 29th June