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Bollywood Actress Tena Desae On Compatibility & Arranged Marriage

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Tena Desae exclusive

Critics are calling Tena Desae the next Freida Pinto – partly because she's an Indian actress with a career in Bollywood, and partly because she also stars opposite Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel in her first Western film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in theaters today. 

The feel-good comedy tells the story of seven British retirees—played by Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and other screen legends—who are lured to retreat to a hotel in India where old people can thrive in their last days. The hotel is run by ambitious but naive Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), and his love for his girlfriend Sunaina (Desae) unexpectedly mirrors the magic and vitality of the hotel's aging guests. Freida Pinto: Boyfriend Dev Patel Is My 'Soulmate'

We talked with Desae recently to hear what it was like working with such a talented group of actors in her home country, and how her own view of love and growing older relates to the movie. Read our interview below:

What was it like having your first Western film experience be with such a legendary cast?
I started off very starstruck by all these English actors who I never imagined working with. Suddenly I'm doing this film with Judi Dench who's in James Bond, Maggie Smith who's in Harry Potter, Bill Nighy who's in Pirates, Tom Wilkinson who's in Rush Hour. What was even more amazing was that they were such genuine people. They're such accomplished actors, but they don't impose themselves on you. They let you be. And to watch them act in front of me, I was like, "I have to pick up as much as I can!" 

In the film, no one wants you and Dev Patel's character, Sonny, to date, but you have such a great connection. What about your characters keeps you two together?
My character loves his spirit and that he wants to do his own thing and not follow the family path. He's such a vibrant, fun, energetic person with a mind of his own and he's so ambitious and yet, he doesn't think he's worth me. He's constantly trying to prove himself to me. I think that's very endearing. But still, I'm not taking advantage of the situation – I'm still supporting him and his dream. I like their relationship of respect, but they're still young and constantly wanting to sneak out and such. It's really cute. Compatibility: In A Man's Eyes

We hear Dev was your first on-screen kiss! What was that like?
I was freaking out! I thought I'd be OK, and John (Madden, the director) very sweetly placed it at the end of filming so we had time to relax. But, on the day I started freaking out and going crazy. The casting director came into my trailer and started telling me movie star stories and joking a lot. I was laughing and having a good time, so by the end of it, I was like, "Yeah, we can do the scene now." After the first rehearsal, (the casting director) asked if I was OK, and I said, "That was it? I was stressing this much for this? It's fine, it's no big deal at all."

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In the film, Sonny's mom disproves of your relationship because she thinks you come from different classes. Are arranged marriages still as common today in India? Do you personally want to marry for love?
I think it's a complex issue, I still don't know what's best yet. Personally, I think it would be better to fall in love with someone and marry them. You know and like the person, so it makes sense to want to spend your life together as opposed to just marrying a stranger … I can't understand how people do that. Having said that, I know a lot of people who've started getting married and like 60 percent of them are choosing arranged marriage. I think that's quite strange because when I was in school, I would watch Hindi films and think that doesn't happen in the real world, or at least it won't happen with our generation. But, apparently it is. A lot of the love relationships aren't working out and people want to settle down and parents are putting pressure on them, so arranged marriage does happen. It's really crazy. But, they're happy, and our parents all have arranged marriages and they're happy. Personally, I'm very confused. The Brutal Truth About Being Single In India [VIDEO]

What relationship advice do you have for a couple who wants to beat all the odds against them?
I don't think it's anything other than compatibility. If you get along and you're like-minded, then everything just falls into place. But, if you just don't get along or don't gel, then whatever you try won't work. Obviously, there has to be honesty, loyalty, trust and making sure it's always fun, but it works differently for everyone. I think it's compatibility that makes you automatically want to please your other half's parents and friends and understand each other and be loyal. I think it's that connection. I don't think we can ever break it down further.

The overall message we got from the film was that "It's never over" in life, even when you're retired. Is that what you want viewers to walk away with?
I want them to walk away loving India and wanting to come and visit or re-visit. But I love the two messages in the film: one, however old you are, you should still want to enjoy your life and live it according to your own terms. You should want to do something and not just sit at home when you retire, wake up, read the paper and go to sleep. I love that the characters are still working and still doing their thing and they're happy. And then, I love the message of hope. Everything is always all right in the end, which is one of Dev Patel's line – I love that. You just go home feeling good.

Tell us: will you be going to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel this weekend?