Armchair travel: explore India without leaving home

India is renowned for its film industry – “Bollywood”. However if you are not in the mood to plunge into an all singing all dancing affair there are a number of excellent recent films set in India (several of which were shot at or feature some of India’s most spectacular hotels). So even if we can’t physically be in India at least we can be there in spirit. Here are a few of our favourites . . .

The Lunchbox, a 2013 Indian romantic film was written and directed by Ritesh Batra. It stars Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Set in Mumbai, the story revolves around an improbable mix-up in the infallible lunch-box delivery system of the famous Dabbawalas, which leads to a relationship between two strangers – Saajan, a lonely widower close to retirement, and Ila, an unhappy housewife – as they start exchanging notes through the daily lunchbox.

The film was screened at International Critics’ Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award. It was also nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language category of the British Academy Film Awards 2015.

We can plan an extended stay in Mumbai with activities that allow you to see and experience the city from many different perspectives. Read about some of the possibilities here and view sample itineraries Mumbai in Depth and as part of a wider India tour Quintessential North and South India.

Hotel Mumbai, a 2018 action thriller, was directed by Anthony Maras and co-written by Maras and John Collee. The film stars Dev Patel, Anupam Kher, Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi.  An Australian-American-Indian co-production, it was inspired by the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai about the 2008 attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.

A gripping story of humanity and heroism, it vividly recounts the siege of the hotel by a group of terrorists.  Among the dedicated hotel staff is the renowned chef Hemant Oberoi and a waiter, who choose to risk their lives to protect their guests. (Of the 31 people killed at the Taj Hotel, half were staff that stayed behind to help guests).

Restored to its former glory, the Taj Mahal Palace was eventually reopened. To this day, some of the employees that work there are survivors of the attack.

Lion, a 2016 Australian biographical drama, was directed by Garth Davis and written by Luke Davies.  It is based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley.  The film stars Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar.

In 1986, as a five-year-old, Saroo accidentally became trapped in a moving decommissioned passenger train that took him to Kolkata, more than 1,600 kilometres away from his home. Totally lost in an alien urban environment and too young to identify either himself or his home to the authorities, Saroo struggled to survive as a street kid until he was sent to an orphanage. Selected to be adopted by the Brierley family in Tasmania, he grew up in a loving, prosperous home. The film tells the true story of how Brierley, 25 years after being separated from his family in Burhanpur, sets out to find them.

The film received six Oscar nominations at the 2017 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won two BAFTA Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Read about some our favourite things to do in Kolkata here.

Viceroy’s House, a 2017 British-Indian historical drama, is based on the books Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, and The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of Partition by Narendra Singh Sarila.  Directed by Gurinder Chadha and written by Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini, and Chadha, it stars Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, and Michael Gambon.

The film, set in New Delhi in March 1947, follows Lord Louis Mountbatten who has just been appointed new (and last) Viceroy of India by Prime Minister Clement Attlee, as he is tasked with overseeing the transition of British India to independence, meeting with conflict as different sides clash in the face of monumental change.

Much of the film was shot at Umaid Bhawan Palace, surely one of the world’s most remarkable places to stay. Read our review here.

Slumdog Millionaire, a 2008 British crime drama, is a loose adaptation of the novel Q & A by Indian author Vikas Swarup.  Directed by Danny Boyle, it stars Dev Patel.

It tells the story of 18-year-old Jamal Malik from the Juhu slums of Mumbai. As a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal surprises everyone by being able to answer every question correctly. Accused of cheating, he recounts his life story to the police, illustrating how he is able to answer each question correctly.

The film was widely acclaimed, being praised for its plot, soundtrack, direction, and performances. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 2009 and won eight, Including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won seven BAFTA Awards including Best Film, five Critics’ Choice Awards and four Golden Globes.

The Crow’s Egg, a 2015 Tamil language comedy-drama, was written, directed and filmed M. Manikandan. Its two young leads, Ramesh and J. Vignesh, real-life slum kids of Chennai who had never acted, give moving and convincing performances.

The film, shot in the slums, follows two young brothers who make their living stealing coal from the railways. Encountering the wonders of pizza in a television commercial, they develop a hunger for a pizza, and come up with all kinds of tricks and odd jobs to save the money that will gain them entry into a gleaming new pizza parlour.

Comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire are inevitable, but unlike the British production, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for these boys. Manikandan’s film unstintingly explores the realities of slum life; however, though a story of crushing poverty, it is never allowed to become grim or depressing.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a 2011 British comedy-drama is based on the 2004 novel These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach.  It features a well-known ensemble cast consisting of Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton.

The story takes a group of British pensioners completely out of their element as they move to a retirement hotel in India “welcoming the elderly and the beautiful”, run by the young and eager Sonny, played by Dev Patel.

Most of the filming took place in Rajasthan, including the cities of Jaipur and Udaipur. Ravla Khempur, which was originally the palace of a tribal chieftain in the village of Khempur (1 hour from Udaipur) was chosen as the site for the film hotel.  (Described in the film as “a building of the utmost character”, this charming, rural palace is not dilapidated as depicted in the film and offers comfortable accommodation).

Such a hit was this film that a sequel, Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with Richard Gere was released in 2014.

We can include a stay at Ravla Khempur in a tailor made itinerary. View some of our many sample itineraries for Rajasthan tours here.

The Darjeeling Limited, a 2007 American comedy-drama was directed by Wes Anderson.  The film stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman; the cast also includes Anjelica Huston, Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan and Bill Murray in cameo roles.

A year after the accidental death of their father, three brothers – each suffering from depression – meet for a train trip across India in an attempt to bond with each other. The brothers argue, sulk, resent each other, and fight.  A series of quirky adventures – a funeral, a meditation, a hilltop ritual, and a Bengal Lancer figure in their reconciliation.

Much of the film was shot in Jodhpur. The Himalaya scenes were shot in Udaipur and the elephant scene was filmed in Narlai. Our Rajasthan in Depth itinerary includes a stay at Rawla Narlai .