Monday, May 10, 2010

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife review: How to kill a good plot!

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife
Gurindher Chadha
Shabana Azmi, Shaheen Khan, Goldy Notay, Sally Hawkins, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Sanjeev Bhaskar
Sonia Chopra
There are some films you’re certain you’ll enjoy—you like the cast, the outrageousness of the plot, the director’s past work and so on. You fasten your seat belts to laugh it out; and are puzzled at how disappointing the film turns out to be.Anyone can make a film on a Brit-Punjabi immigrant family and focus on the mother’s obsession with her plump daughter finding a groom. But we don’t expect Gurinder Chaddha who gave us the football playing Jess Kaur in Bend it Like Beckham, to make a story around a subject more suited to our TV soaps.
At first, the conflict is cute. Roopi’s (Goldy Notay) engagement has just broken off and she’s wondering if she was never good enough for her spineless fiancé. Now her mother Mrs Sethi (Shabana Azmi, crackling), mourning her husband’s death, wants to see her daughter 'settled' before she 'can die in peace'.
So unswerving is her obsession with Roopi’s marriage, at one point the caring daughter snaps and orders that their morning walks together be considered a `marriage-free zone’. What we don’t know about this genial aunty is that she takes the jibes aimed at her daughter a tad too seriously. She doesn’t forgive those who hurt and reject her daughter without even knowing her. She just kills them. The police is flummoxed at the line of similar murders, all committed with kitchen accessories, and are fervently hunting for the 'curry killer'.
Enter new cop recruit Murthy (Sendhil Ramamurthy, TV Series Heroes), an old family friend of the Sethis. Roopi agrees that he’s cute, and convinced he’s out of her league. While investigating, however, and much against his wishes, Murthy is made to go undercover and woo Roopi. Meanwhile, the ghost of Mrs Sethi’s victims come back to haunt her and demand she do something about reincarnating them. Eventually, an uncanny friendship develops between the ghosts and Mrs Sethi, even as they sympathize with their killer’s predicament.
Adding to the mayhem is Roopi’s best friend Linda (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky), who has renamed herself Gitali after a pseudo-spiritual trip to India. She’s back now with renewed psychic powers and an Indian fiancé.
The actress is wonderfully spunky and has a great knack for comedy, but the writing lets her down. How funny it can possibly be, you can imagine, to see an extended scene where Linda has a bowl of red curry thrown on her, and her reacting as if in an exorcism movie, levitating the ghosts, and having the wedding party food blown in the guests’ faces. Also unfunny (because it so gross), is the ghosts’ styling, with one spirit’s innards constantly threatening to spill out through the stomach, and another with the chicken tikka rod stuck through her throat.
For laughs, you have dialogue like this particular ghost complaining to her killer, 'You know I am vegetarian, why kill me with chicken tikka , why not paneer?'
The cast is in full form and you thoroughly enjoy each performance. Shabana Azmi playing the seemingly benign mom with a sinister secret is just adorable. She’s masterful in the comic portions, especially when she’s talking to her ghost gang, appearing to be talking to herself all along.
Azmi expertly moulds her character to be endearingly tragicomic, never letting it slip into becoming a caricature. Goldy Notay is sweetly comical, but let down by the characterisation.
Roopi’ s characterisation is half-baked; it’s the biggest cliché to show someone less attractive as having a heart of gold. Here, it is argued that despite being fat (and constantly shown eating jalebis or chocolates), Roopi is bride material as she’s caring and a do-gooder, even working at a shelter for women.
Gurinder Chadha’s film is not as breezy, subversive, and clutter-breaking as her earlier ones (Bhaji on the Beach, Bend it like Beckham). And not much can be said about a film where the outtakes remain the most entertaining slice.


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