thu 02/07/2020

It's A Wonderful Afterlife | reviews, news & interviews

It's A Wonderful Afterlife

It's A Wonderful Afterlife

Currying disfavour with OTT romcom from the Bend It Like Beckham brigade

Up close and personal: Sendhil Ramamurthy romances Goldy Notay

Many is the mother the world over who announces that she won't die happy until she has lived to see her daughter (or son) happily wed. And so, out of a familial condition that transcends ethnicity and geography comes It's a Wonderful Afterlife, the Gurinder Chadha movie that carries this shared fretfulness one step further, throwing in curry jokes as it goes. What would happen if a mum were so desperate on her daughter's behalf that she resorted to murder? The answer is best pondered as and when this London-set Indian romcom is released on DVD, at which point you can watch it in the company of your own home, a chicken tikka kebab at the ready.

That dietary staple turns out against the odds to be one of the lethal weapons by which various upstanding Southall citizens are falling over dead into their tarka dahl. ("Naan slaughter!" shriek the headlines.) What do these victims have in common? Alas, they all have either spurned or further humiliated the very available, ever self-pitying Roopi (Goldy Notay), an Asian semi-equivalent to Bridget Jones whose ailing mum, Mrs. Sethi (Shabana Azmi), won't go to her wished-for grave until she has got her daughter hitched.

For a while, no one has a clue why the local populace is perishing more quickly than you can say the word "papadum". All that's clear is Roopi's luckless love life, which isn't helped by a general awareness that she has "a bottom like a buffalo". But as the corpses mount, the cadavers form an impromptu back-up chorus of sorts to the increasingly desperate Mrs. Sethi, who leaves them trailing after her as Roopi's moods darken. Poor Roopi is "tainted goods", or so goes one theory, while another is that her failure with men may be due to the fact that she's a lesbian. (And why not?)

Such material virtually demands a knight in shining armour: Chadha didn't direct Bride and Prejudice for nothing. And It's a Wonderful Afterlife offers up a hero in the dapper presence of Heroes alumnus Sendhil Ramamurthy as D S Murthy, a copper who on this evidence would seem to be solving the odd crime on his way to some unspecified modelling gig. Ramamurthy may remind viewers of a certain vintage of erstwhile West Side Story Oscar-winner George Chakiris, an actor who to my knowledge never appeared in a film that begins with a full-on, gross-out vomit scene.

Roopi's burgeoning rapport with a representative of the law might be more interesting if it came accompanied by something besides a sequence of bland picture postcard images prior to a hurtlingly amorous finish that allows a happy Mrs. Sethi to finish herself off. At times, it's difficult to tell whether It's a Wonderful Afterlife is indulging the time-honored tropes of such stories or sending them up, though the pall that hung over the press screening I attended says much about the material's lack of fizz.

The central relationship takes place against a self-consciously eccentric backdrop that fairly cries out to be adored for its "madcap" qualities, if only the sense of strain were less apparent. The wonderful Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) is on hand playing the lippy-dippy Linda, a friend of Roopi's who for some reason morphs into Stephen King's murderous Carrie, and Zoe Wanamaker appears in a white wig cracking Willesden jokes until her actions, too, land her among the walking, waking dead.

I have hugely fond memories of Bend It Like Beckham, the 2002 film that launched Chadha as a talent to reckon with (and brought the world Keira Knightley). It's a Wonderful Afterlife by comparison feels like a filmic afterthought. You leave the cinema hungry for more.

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