Last night I watched Gurinder Chadha’s It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (2010), which I’d picked up for two quid, brand new, in a HMV sale! Not a great omen, I know, and it’s fair to say that the critical reception was fairly negative, but I ended up enjoying myself quite a bit. I didn’t exactly break a rib laughing, but there were some hearty chuckles to be had, and I thought the central premise was admirably off-the-wall. Going purely by the DVD cover-picture, I’d assumed that the ghosts would be working with the rolling-pin-wielding mother to avenge their murders and help catch the killer(s)… I didn’t expect the mother to actually *be* the killer! And that’s revealed in the first fifteen minutes! After that, the bulk of the story involves the spooks trying to find a suitable suitor for the woman’s overweight daughter (who they’d all insulted in some way, while alive), so the remorseless mother can finally surrender her own life, and the trapped souls of her victims can be reincarnated. I can understand why this was such a hard sell, and why many audience members might have been baffled, because it is quite an unusual mash-up of genres… like an Indian Keeping Mum crossed with Ghost! Personally, I got a kick out of how crazy it was… and I particularly enjoyed the way the wedding scene warped into a Carrie homage, for no apparent reason!
Shabana Azmi, who plays the mother (‘Mrs. Sethi’), is better known as an award-winning dramatic actress in India… and she plays her role here with such sincerity and solemnity, it really helps to ground all the wackiness swirling around her. The ugly-duckling daughter, ‘Roopi’, is played by Goldy Notay, who put on two extra stone for the role… then promptly had to burn the extra padding back off again, for her cameo in Sex and the City 2! She puts in a solid performance, and looks mighty fine after her makeover, but it’s a little hard to pay attention to her when she’s sharing a screen with Sally Hawkins, in a scene-stealing role as Roopi’s BFF, ‘Linda’… who gently insists that everyone call her “Gitali”, after returning from a mind-expanding trip to India. In a rather cruel comic irony, all the other (living) characters mock Linda for her New Age pretensions and wannabe ways, even though we (as audience members) can see that she has bona fide psychic powers, and could easily put the tormented spirits to rest, if only Roopi had a little more faith in her, and didn’t interrupt the impromptu séance. Even worse, while Roopi gets her “happy ever after” with the flat-foot of her dreams, Linda gets dumped by her fiancé, humiliated in front of all her family and friends, and showered with food at the reception! Harsh.
Incidentally, the DVD itself seemed very Desi-centric… there was a flier for a cheap phone call service to India tucked into the case, and the only trailer on the disc was for Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, which focuses on how African-Americans treat their hair, from straightening it with toxic chemicals, to buying weaves made of Indian hair! He even goes to India at one point, to investigate where the hair comes from, so there are a few scenes of the motherland in there too. Were they not anticipating a lot of crossover appeal?