It’s hard to relate to the sense of humour of director Gurinder Chaddha in her latest film It's a Wonderful Afterlife. In her attempt to wring out laughs from seemingly improbable situations like a mother going on a killing spree because her overweight, dowdy, marriageable daughter was rejected by a number of suitors, Chaddha goes over the top and deliberately silly without actually being able to crack up the humour that leaves you with belly ache. And to play to the gallery, Chaddha puts her trust in the fetchingly overweight Shabana Azmi, playing the typical Punjabi widow Mrs. Sethi whose world revolves around just one aim - getting her unattractive daughter Roopi (Goldy Notay) married.
Agreed there’re some laughs to be had in the matchmaking scenes and when a frustrated Mrs. Sethi brings her culinary skills to devilish use by murdering those who made fun of her frumpy daughter. She uses innovative methods like killer curry, poisoned laddoo, deadly naans and even a handy rolling pin. But the funny moments are mere punctuations in the overlong yawn-inspiring stretches the film meanders into when the spirits of the dead come back to haunt Mrs. Sethi.
The spirits, we’re told, can’t be reincarnated until Mrs. Sethi dies. But Mrs. Sethi can’t breathe her last until her daughter Roopi is married. The spirits naturally join hands to see that Roopi is married off soon. Easy said than done because the London police is looking out for a ‘curry killer’. Enters a handsome detective (Sendhil Ramamurthy) who seems to develop a liking for Roopi. Solution in sight for Mrs. Sethi and the spirits who are dying for a happy afterlife?
Sounds interesting on paper, but the story doesn’t shape up half as gripping on the big screen. Chaddha’s uncanny humour and her knack of marrying different genres (comedy, horror, family drama, romance) creates a rather unpalatable mishmash. The engagement party scene at the fag end when Roopi’s psychic friend (Sally Hawkins) goes berserk and wrecks the party with paneer tikka and tandoori chicken as her ammo, isn’t side-splitting. In between the chuckles, Chaddha aims to strike an emotional chord as well.
Among actors, Goldy Notay does leave a mark playing the plump Punjabi kudi with an unmistakable Blighty touch. Shabana Azmi puts in a sincere effort but does overplay her character at times. Jimmy Mistry (as Sally Hawkins’ Indian hubby) doesn’t have much to do. Likewise, Sendhil just about flashes his smile for the most of his part.
‘It’s a Wonderful Afterlife’ does have catchy tunes (Bally Sagoo and Sukhwinder) but the script by Chaddha and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges has a lot of half-baked characters. Some of the gags (especially the taunts on Roopi’s weight) are simply childish. The movie’s not even a patch on Chaddha’s immensely enjoyable ‘Bend It Like Beckham’.