The movie opens up by showing the 7 main characters, all elderly, one at a time. They are:
Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench): Evelyn is working on trying to get wireless internet, but is extremely confused about the whole thing (For example, she asks if wireless internet is the same as wifi). She calls the company for help and the woman who receives the call is very robotic and asks continually for the account holder. Evelyn reveals that the account holder is her husband, who died from a heart attack. However, the person on the other end of the line is pretty unsympathetic.
Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson): Graham is going to a retirement party for a judge. Graham does not see the point of retirement parties and is not very excited. At the retirement party, while everyone is listening to the retiring judge speak, Graham suddenly exclaims "Today is the day!" and leaves the party.
Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton respectively): Doug and Jean are meeting an estate agent who is talking to the married couple about making their house more elderly friendly by placing rails and a panic button (in case they fall) in the house. Jean is not a fan of these renovations.
Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith): Muriel is at a hospital and is waiting for help. When a nurse comes by Muriel remarks that she hasn't been helped yet. However, the nurse states that Muriel has been helped by a doctor. It turns out that since the doctor was black, Muriel refused to be helped by him. Muriel asks for a more "English" doctor. So, the nurse brings her an Indian doctor, which Muriel is not pleased about.
Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup): Norman is at a speed-dating event where each woman is in the 25-39 age bracket. Norman lied about his age and said he was 25-39 also although he is probably in his sixties. No woman seems pleased to be in dating him, however. He says he's still got it, but there is nobody for him to show that to.
Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie): Madge is arguing with her son-in-law and her daughter. Her son-in-law and daughter each think she's a bit crazy. Madge is a bit sick of this and leaves and hops in a cab. When the driver asks where she's going, she replies she doesn't know.
The next sequence of events show how each of the people choose to go to India. Each person is given a description of the Exotic Marigold Hotel. The description makes the place sound absolutely gorgeous. It turns out that Evelyn's husband was in debt, and that she needs to sell her home. She chooses to go to India for a bit of adventure and to perhaps escape from some of the stress she was going through. Graham is playing golf and is telling his partner about how he's already lived in India and felt it was time to go back again. Douglas and Jean leave perhaps for a last hurrah. Muriel is told by the doctor that it will be three months until she can get her operation done (a hip replacement). She remarks that she doesn't even know if she has three months left. The doctor then says that they're running a new program that will allow her to get her hip replaced immediately, but the only problem is that she would have to go to India. Norman is revealed to also be heading to this hotel. And Madge figures that she could just head to India since she doesn't exactly have anywhere else to go.
Next, we arrive at the airport. Evelyn is a bit nervous as this is the first time she is traveling without her husband. Norman purposely gets stopped at security so he can be patted down by a cute security guard. All 7 of these characters meet at the airport when they all sit next to each other at their boarding gate. The next thing we see is the plane touching down in India. The group has obviously bonded and leaves the plane together. However, their next flight is delayed, so Graham suggests they all take the bus. The bus is extremely crowded, but the group finds a way to squeeze on. On the bus, Doug is offered some sort of food by a random person on the bus. He takes it and eats it to which Jean remarks that he will get sick. The bus drives through the night, and while everyone else is asleep Evelyn and Graham begin talking to one another and become friends.
After some rough travel, the group finally arrives at the hotel. We suddenly see Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) run through the hotel to meet the group at the entrance. He obviously was not prepared for customers. He greets the group at the entrance and leads them each to their respective rooms. It is clear that the hotel is not as gorgeous as it sounds. Evelyn's room is very dusty, Jean and Doug's room has tons of birds living inside of it, and Madge is basically given an alcove in the hotel which has no door. Madge tells Sonny that she'll just take his room, and he can sleep in the alcove. Later at dinner that evening Sonny formally introduces himself to them and exclaims that his hotel is the home for "the elderly and the beautiful". Sonny is the manager and works with an elderly man and a few other people. The group are Sonny's first guests in the hotel. Muriel is still quite racist and refuses to eat the food and instead eats the chocolate she brought with from England.
After this, we get treated to a collection of scenes which show what each person is up to.
Evelyn is basically treating the whole experience as an adventure and slowly becomes accustomed to all the things in India which she was not used to. She frequently travels with Jean and Graham. She tries to see all the sights and one day wants to call home, but the hotel's phones do not work. One day she goes to a telemarketing company where she meets the manager. The manager tells her that most of the people who work there are kids just out of college. Evelyn says that she came to the wrong place, but the manager says that he has a job for her. She ends up becoming a "cultural advisor" for the company. She teaches the workers there how to relate better to the people they call so they can get more sales in less time.
At the telemarketing company, we meet Sunaina (Tena Desae), who is Sonny's girlfriend. She works at the telemarketing company. Her brother is the manager that Evelyn met with earlier. Sonny loves her, but he his love for her secret from his mother because he knows his mother will not approve of Sunaina. When his mother comes to him from New Delhi she tells him that she wants him to be just like his 2 brothers, both of whom are very rich and each own 1/3 of the company. His mother his trying to set him up with a girl in New Delhi for an arranged marriage, but he loves Sunaina. Unfortunately, Sonny is feeling like a failure because the hotel isn't doing well. He shows around a potential investor trying to get some money for his hotel. Unfortunately, one night, Sunaina sneaks into the hotel to see Sonny, but when she goes into his room, she strips naked and gets into bed...with Madge who switched rooms with Sonny at the beginning of the movie. Sunaina screams while Madge hilariously says "that's the most action I've had in weeks". Hearing the screams both Sonny and, unfortunately, his mother run to his room. Seeing Sunaina naked, Sonny's mother is disgusted. She completely humiliates Sunaina and Sunaina runs outside crying.
Meanwhile, Graham walks to where we can presume he used to live. However, all the houses there are gone. He asks some children playing cricket nearby where the people are who used to live there. The child says that all the families moved. Graham then plays cricket with the kids. One night he completely opens up to Evelyn about his reason for being in India. It turns out Graham is gay and when he lived in India while he was young he had a relationship with another boy named Manoj. The two of them loved each other, and Graham says they were the happiest days of his life. Unfortunately, one day their parents found them sleeping together. Manoj was humiliated and taken away, while Graham went to a university in England. Graham felt the need to come back because he wondered if Manoj would like to see him one last time. Each day he makes inquiries about Manoj's whereabouts.
Doug, like Evelyn, sightsees for the most part. One day it seems that Jean and Doug's faucet is broken so he and Evelyn go to get it fixed. On the way, Evelyn wants to buy a piece of clothing, but Doug tries to tell her that she can get it for a lower price by bartering. Comically, he is incorrect, and Evelyn gets the clothing for the original price. He manages to get the faucet fixed and along the way Evelyn, and he engage in interesting conversation and bond even further.
Jean, on the other hand, is constantly pessimistic about India. No matter what, she always seems to tear down other people's happiness. She refuses to leave the hotel and sits reading all day, despite her husband's insistence for her to see the sights. She seems to hate India. One day she finally leaves the hotel and finds Graham. While they are getting lunch, Jean tells him that it seems she's been searching for someone like Graham her whole life. Graham tells her that he's gay, and she leaves, humiliated. At the hotel, after Doug shows her the broken faucet, she breaks down in tears stating that they're old, and there's nothing left for them anymore.
Muriel gets her hip surgery done and is confined to a wheelchair. She gets food from a servant but refuses to eat it, because it's Indian food. She continues to eat her chocolates instead. When the servant sees one morning that Muriel did not eat dinner one day, she places some of Muriel's chocolate which was on a nearby counter on the tray. Muriel smiles at this and seems to bond with the servant. When Muriel tries to talk to her, Graham walks in and states that the servant is an untouchable and will not respond. However, Muriel continues to develop her friendship with the servant. One day her servant invites Muriel to see her family. There are about 30 family members in a tiny shack. Muriel eats the indian food there so as to not disgrace the servant. When she sees some kids with her wheelchair she assumes that they're trying to steal it. She screams, but when she realizes they were only playing with it, she realizes how ignorant she's been. She apologizes. Later, when she's with her servant, she thanks her and gives her some chocolate. Muriel opens up to the servant about how she used to watch over another family's children, although she had no kids of her own. She did everything for those kids, but when she got old, the family brought in another woman to take care of them and told Muriel she was no longer needed. Now she just lives in a home, by herself.
Madge walks into a sort of club for extremely wealthy people. When she hears how much it costs her to join, she fakes that she's royalty. The bouncer calls her out on it and asks her to pay full price. The next time she goes, she asks to sit next to an extremely wealthy man. When she gets her seat, she is introduced....to Norman, who successfully faked that he was royalty. The two begin to talk and Norman notices a girl at the bar who he would like to sleep with. Madge goes and sets him up to the woman, named Carol, but Norman is extremely awkward. Madge leaves to the bathroom, and Norman asks Carol if he can start over. He tells Carol that he is very lonely, and Carol says that she is too. When Madge gets back she notices that Norman is successfully talking to Carol and looks on.
After all of these events transpire, things start to come together. Graham gets a call one day about Manoj and goes with Evelyn and Doug to see him. On the way, Graham states that there's no way they found Manoj, but Evelyn tells him that it's worth a shot. When Graham knocks on the door, Manoj's wife answers and states that she know who Graham is. She shows Graham to Manoj. When they first see each other they give each other a huge hug. Evelyn and Doug leave. Evelyn wonders what Manoj's wife thought about the whole thing. On the way back to the hotel, Evelyn almost gets run over but is saved by Doug. It's clear at this point that Evelyn and Doug may be more than friends, but since Doug is loyal to his wife, nothing happens.
Meanwhile, Norman gets a date, and before the date goes to a doctor to "reestablish his vigor". Before the date Madge asks him if he'll survive sex to which he replies "If she dies, she dies". The day after his date, and also the day after Graham stayed with Manoj, Norman and Graham run into each other. Graham asks Norman how the date went, and Norman replies he's at the top of a mountain. Graham tells him about Manoj. Graham was terrified that Manoj would hate him for humiliating Manoj, but instead Manoj still cared about him and they talked all night. Graham states that he felt like he was in a prison because of his worries about Manoj, but now he's been freed. Later, when Evelyn goes to ask Graham how it went with Manoj, she finds him dead. It turns out that Graham had a heart condition and knew he was going to die in India. The group mourns at his funeral with Manoj. After the funeral, at the hotel, Evelyn is extremely sad and hugs Doug for comfort. Jean sees this and is extremely angry, asking Evelyn if she can have her husband back. Doug tries to explain, but instead Jean yells at him and cries. Doug then lets loose, telling her that she is just too pessimistic. He's always been loyal to him, but no matter how happy he gets, she just shoots him back down. Jean wants to leave back to America with Doug.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Exotic Marigold Hotel may close as Sonny's two brothers want to sell it. His mother states that it's time to get rid of it. Sonny says that it was his father's dream to keep this hotel, and he wants to keep that dream. His mother refuses to hear him out though. Muriel hears this whole thing and seems to come up with a plan. Later Muriel meets with the potential investor Sonny was talking to earlier and tries to convince him to keep the hotel open. It seems that as a result of this, everyone will be forced to go back to England. Norman instead chooses to move in with Carol. Madge states that's rather soon, but Carol states that they don't exactly have much time left to play it slow. Madge says that she thinks her love-days are over, but Carol tries to change her mind.
The next few days Evelyn avoids Doug, while Jean finds a way to get plane tickets for her and Doug. Jean and Doug plan to leave. Evelyn meanwhile runs into Sonny, and when Sonny explains his situation to her about Sunaina, Evelyn motivates Sonny to go after her, and he takes off to see Sunaina at the telemarketing company. Sonny runs into Sunaina's brother, and Sonny tells him that he wants to tell something to Sunaina. However, Sunaina was listening the whole time and asks him what he has to say. He tells her that he loves her, and he'll tell that to his mom and will insist to his mother that they marry. This changes her mind, and he leaves with Sunaina.
Jean and Doug are preparing to leave for the airport. Before they leave, Doug pretends he's lost her wallet to go see Evelyn one last time, but Evelyn doesn't want to see him. He leaves without seeing her again. They get caught up in, rush hour and traffic is at a standstill. This aggravates Jean who gets out and asks a nearby biker to take them. The biker states that he can either take one person with luggage or two people without luggage. Jean tells Doug this was what they needed to get to anyways. She states that they both deserve better and that it was only due to Doug's loyalty that the relationship lasted for as long as it did. She leaves with the biker for the airport. Doug also tries to reach the airport eventually, but misses the flight. The next morning Doug runs into Evelyn while he is walking back into the hotel. Evelyn is surprised to see him again. Before Evelyn heads to work, Doug asks her if she wants to get tea with him later. She says yes.
Sonny returns to the hotel with Sunaina and confesses to his mother his feelings for Sunaina. His mother still refuses. However, the elderly servant at the hotel states that he's been with the family for a long time and seems to remember when another young boy stood up to his mother about a girl he loved. It's clear this story is about Sonny's mom, though she refuses to admit it. She changes her mind and tells Sunaina to take care of him. Later Muriel reveals that the hotel can stay open. Sonny's mother states that there's no way, but Muriel tells her that she convinced the investor to give money to the hotel on the condition that Muriel becomes assistant manager. Sonny accepts this, as does his mother, and everyone seems happy.
Later, we are shown that the Exotic Marigold Hotel is doing well, getting more guests and is being redecorated well. Muriel is taking good care of it. Madge is going out, and meeting men, while Norman seems happy with Carol. At the end, we are given a shot of Sonny and Sunaina together on a motorcycle seeing Evelyn and Doug also together on a motorcycle.
The screen fades to black as we watch Evelyn and Doug ride off together.
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