It’s a Wonderful Afterlife. The name itself has connotations of rebirth. However, if you are going to watch Gurinder Chadha‘s recently released film with the preconceptions of Bollywood’s much loved Karz (1980) or even Shah Rukh Khan starrer Om Shanti Om, you will be disappointed somewhat. What you will find instead is an attempt to convey several moral messages that arguably represent a British Asian society, delivered in a light-hearted fashion and disguised in a love story. Confused yet?
Set in Southall, London’s hub for Asians, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife is the story of a mother, played by the very elegant Shabana Azmi, who is trying to find a fitting life partner for her daughter Roopi. Roopi Sethi, portrayed by British actress Goldy Notay, is slightly on the plump side and matchmaking endeavours on Mrs Sethi’s part prove unsuccessful because of this. Mrs Sethi feels so strongly about her community’s treatment towards her daughter that she resorts to extreme measures and finds herself being “haunted” by spirits as a result. The story is then surrounded by the spirits trying to influence Mrs Sethi because they believe she holds the key to their freedom. Soon enough there is a realisation that the only way the spirits will achieve freedom is if they give fate a helping hand to find Roopi a suitable match.
The film tackles a variety of social issues such as peer pressure from a community perspective, the concept of arranged marriages in Britain, and, most importantly, karma. The theory of karma surrounds deeds done in a past life and how these actions determine the negatives and positives of a new life after reincarnation. The film highlights the mistakes of the spirits in their past lives and their inability to move on until the wrongs are put right. The comical stance taken by the spirits is, overall, a true delight to watch.
The comedy aspect of the film is, in many places, spot-on. Sanjeev Bhaskar‘s representation of the Curry Man (an actor best known for British comedies Goodness Gracious Me! and The Kumars at No.42) shows impeccable comic timing throughout the movie and completely steals the show. The comic dialogues are fresh and some scenes are sure to have the audiences in fits of laughter. On the flip side, there are also scenes in the film that make a credible effort to be funny but are not as successful. Whether this is because of the extraordinarily unbelievable characters or simply that the scenes don’t strike a chord, it is debatable.
As with Chadha’s previous films, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife boasts a talented array of actors and actresses from a wide variety of forums. Award-winning actress Sally Hawkins gives a funny performance of Roopi’s best friend, Linda, who takes a more than obsessive interest in the Hindu religion. The multi-talented former Eastender Ray Panthaki plays the role of Roopi’s younger brother, a character who appears to be a little too carefree but has a sweet surprise up his sleeve. Best known for this character in Heroes, Sendhil Ramamurthy plays Roopi’s childhood friend in the film. His character emerges as the kind that every girl would be proud to take home to meet her parents: he’s polite, attentive, respectful, good-looking, great job… the works! Aside from these, the film also features Jimi Mistry, Shaheen Khan, and Mark Addy – to name a few. An if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it appearance is also made by Preeya Khalidas who is currently known as the glamorous Amira in aforementioned British soap opera, Eastenders.
Although the film may not go on to be as popular as Bend It Like Beckham or Bride and Prejudice, both of which had very different and arguably more widely appealing unique-selling-points in comparison, it seems to add more steam to the acceptance of cross-over movies on a wider spectrum. Chadha’s previous films have proven popular not only with the Asian communities but on a largely non-Asian scale too. It’s a Wonderful Afterlife attempts to bring the genre of horror into the equation as well as retaining the comedy and the cultured perspectives in earlier Bollywood-Hollywood films. Chadha should be commended for her bravery to try something new, but whether she has succeeded is questionable.
It’s a Wonderful Afterlife offers various depictions of a British-Asian society and uses anecdotes to illustrate the shortcomings of a mixed culture. However, Chadha has, once again, tried to put too many ingredients in an already complicated mixture. The result is pleasing enough but could, perhaps, do with some additional boldness to help it stand out in a more impressionable fashion.