Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

May 28, 2010

Death becomes her

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 5:40 pm

May 07, 2011

Cast: Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shabana Azmi, Goldy Notay, Steve Morphew
Director: Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha’s latest, “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” is missing the energy and the zing of her previous hit “Bend It Like Beckham”, but it’s a moderately entertaining film nonetheless thanks to some witty dialogue, and the enthusiastic performances of its two female protagonists.

This serial-killer comedy stars Shabana Azmi as frustrated Southall mother Mrs Sethi, who’s so desperate to see her plump daughter married that she bumps off anyone who rejects her. Four of her victims — who she has suffocated by naan, struck on the head with a rolling pin, stabbed with a kebab skewer, and fed red-hot curry until his stomach explodes — come back as grey-powdered ghosts and haunt Mrs Sethi, who’s unwilling to release them by killing herself before her daughter is hitched.

Left with no option, this quartet of spirits decides to help her set up her daughter Roopi (played by Goldy Notay) with a charming Indian detective (played by Sendhil Ramamurthy of “Heroes”) who’s been brought in to investigate these ‘curry killings’.

The silliness of the plot is not so much the problem here as the fact that it’s so regressive. Bad enough the old biddy weeps copious tears and goes on and on about not wanting her girl to miss out on the joy of companionship, it’s embarrassing that even the seemingly self-reliant daughter cuddles up to her BFF and mopes that she wasn’t good enough for a fiancĂ© who dumped her.

Ironic that the same director who delivered such a spirited, progressive take on women and unconventional career choices in “Bend It Like Beckham” does a complete 360-degrees with this sentimental, old-fashioned tale that encourages stereotypes, whereas “Beckham” celebrated the idea of breaking out of the mould.

Similarly, in this film Chadha deprives the heroine of any personality, reducing Roopi to a jalebi-hogging frump who we never get a real sense of, apart from noticing that she’s a good friend and a caring daughter. We learn that she works at a shelter for abused women, but she might as well have been working at a car-wash, because we see no attachment to the job, or even a passing reference to what her career means to her.

If you’re able to empathize with Mrs Sethi’s pain or with Roopi’s awkwardness despite these glaring inconsistencies in the script, it’s because Shabana Azmi invests a real beating heart into her character, which might have otherwise slipped so easily into caricature; and because Goldy Notay brings a tinge of pathos to the character of the constantly ridiculed daughter.

Some easy laughs are provided by Brit-actress Sally Hawkins who stars as Roopi’s psychic best friend Linda, who returns from a six-week spiritual holiday in India with a new Indian name, an Indian fiancĂ©, and all the answers to life.

The four embittered ghosts deliver some clever asides between them. And although Chadha’s typical British deadpan humor works at points, it also makes you long for some deep belly laughs. She gets it right with a hilarious climax that doffs its hat to that famous prom scene from “Carrie”, but alas that scene is stretched too long for its good.

In the end, it’s a little too sentimental for an out-and-out comedy, but makes for time-pass viewing on a lazy weekend.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five and an average rating for director Gurinder Chadha’s “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife”. Don’t expect to be falling off your chair with laughter, but still more enjoyable than watching “Housefull” any day.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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