I haven’t seen the first film, but I had a glimmering of what it might have been about. This one was almost pure saccharine candy floss around the most flimsy of story pretexts. It’s basically an excuse to hang out with characters who’re charming and basically decent. I think that the overall joyous nature of the film is supposed to shield it from difficult political questions. Essentially, this is a “good bits” version of India, with gracious and wise white folk showing the natives how things are done, if not outright enabling their dreams. There are “good bits” happy romantic comedies in every conceivable setting, and that emphasis doesn’t create difficult post-colonial questions in productions set in “The West”. It would indeed be somewhat churlish to so completely misread the areas of interest of this film. So let’s think about why it didn’t work for me “on its own terms”.
I found this film basically a bit disappointing because there were some fairly interesting alternate outcomes in different stories, especially the central love match between Bill Nighy and Judy Dench. There’s no real reason that their relationship needed to end up happily, and quite a few reasons it may have just been doomed to fail. The only reason that it was completed was to go for the perfect score on happy endings. This is just a film that took absolutely no chances on a feel-good journey to a happy ending. What that does, in my mind at least, is lend a depressing air of inevitability to all of the other romantic relationships, a sense that there is no such thing as free will, or choice, just a kind of arbitrary pair-matching exercise. The two “spare” members of the cast have no other options, and no other options are even conceivable. Love in that kind of construction is completely mundane and dramatically inert. It’s not exactly that you need a genuine threat of unhappiness, so much as that choices need to mean something for drama to function.
This “perfect score” is also a bit invidious, inasmuch as it really seriously constrains the criteria for happiness to the classic measurable victories. Buy the hotel, win the contract, deliver the perfect speech, get the girl. It does not admit that happiness is contingent, complex, or available through many routes. It’s such a pure fantasy that it’s boring, if not actually damaging to anyone buying into it. Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is just life with the boring bits cut out, and the creators of this film needed a good dose of life to give it some drama.
I gave it 6/10 on IMDB, because while it’s not my thing, it’s what its audience wanted.