Hotel India, TV review: This entertaining visit comes with some reservations

 

Anyone whose holiday accommodation wasn't everything they hoped for this August might have wished, after watching BBC2's Hotel India, that they had headed to south Asia instead. There, hoteliers work to the mantra "guest is God".

The swankier and more expensive the hotel, the more visitors are treated like a living deity, and Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace is at the top of the pile. In a now almost old-fashioned fly-on-the-wall style (see 2012's Inside Claridge's), we saw the 1,500-strong team painstakingly aligning water bottles, crawling on hands and knees to check bath time would not be sullied by a single speck of dust in the eyeline, and fretting about snack placement. "Guests must be able to stretch out their hand and grab some nuts," butler Melville earnestly told his staff. While we briefly met Melville's VIP, oil trader Captain Bhasin, and other guests, like the surgically youthful octogenarian Maria Mooers, this series is told through the eyes of the staff.

We saw them preparing the £9,000-a-night Tata Suite for the latest VIP (Oprah and Barack Obama are former guests); monitoring cleanliness, smell and booze choices – Bacardi, out, Captain Morgan's Spiced Gold, in – laying a red carpet and booking the mystery guest into all 12 of the hotel's restaurants. It was all a bit anticlimactic since the identity of the super-VIP was never revealed but you had to feel for the head chef when we were told that he or she had opted for a private chef over in-house dining.

We were – rightly – not allowed to forget that only a tiny percentage of India's 1.2 billion population ever experience the luxuries of the Taj. From the sellers that hawk their trade and live on its doorstep, to the "room boy" responsible for cleaning the bath who had never himself been in a tub. Even if this point was banged home by the programme-makers, it was still a humbling, fascinating look at a country where the chasm between rich and poor is vast. The prevailing message was upbeat; staff came across as genuinely happy at work and passionate about their jobs. "I don't feel that I'm 61, I feel 16," said Mr Chaskar, a veteran of 42 years' service as he nipped around checking minibars with a beaming smile for guests, while singing the praises of his employers. If only those B&B owners in Tenerife could have taken a leaf out of his book.

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