It’s a Wonderful Afterlife
dir-prd Gurinder Chadha
scr Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha
with Shabana Azmi, Goldy Notay, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Sally Hawkins, Jimi Mistry, Mark Addy, Zoe Wanamaker, Shaheen Khan, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Adlyn Ross, Ash Varrez, Ray Panthaki, Jack Gordon
release UK 21.Apr.10, US 8.Oct.10
10/UK 1h40
It's a Wonderful Afterlife
What about him? Notay and Azmi

ramamurthy hawkins mistry
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It's a Wonderful Afterlife Filmmaker Chadha is back with another uneven comedy, although unlike Bride & Prejudice, this isn't actually a Bollywood variation on the Frank Capra classic: it's a London farce about arranged marriage with a ghostly twist.

The widowed Mrs Sethi (Azmi) is worried that her slightly overweight daughter Roopi (Notay) will never find a husband. Every match she arranges turns Roopi down, which leads Mrs Sethi to react murderously. But now the ghosts (Khan, Bkaskar, Ross and Varrez) of her victims are offering to help in order to improve their chances of reincarnation. Fortunately, Roopi's childhood friend Murthy (Ramamurthy) is back in town and hugely eligible. Unfortunately, he's a detective looking for the killer.

The film takes the general tone of a TV comedy sketch, complete with cheesy make-up and effects and eye-rolling performances. Some of this is funny, although the script swings wildly between slapstick and teary emotion, so we never quite settle on a reaction to it. Adding to the craziness is Roopi's best friend Linda (Hawkins), back in town with a sudden fiance (Mistry) after a mind-opening stint in an ashram. Hawkins adds a layer of professionalism to the comedy, and she also gets the best set piece, a silly pastiche of the Carrie prom scene.

But it's the jarring awkwardness of all of these elements that keeps the film from amounting to anything. As with her previous films, Chadha throws everything she can think of at the screen in an attempt to win us over. This tends to work better when her stories are more focused (as with Bend it Like Beckham or Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging), but this film is so scattershot that it's more exhausting than endearing.

That said, Chadha is always good at portraying culture clashes on screen, as well as capturing the everyday rhythms of the Indian subculture. The Bollywood numbers are actually the most entertaining things here, and the most interesting characters are Roopi's younger brother (Panthaki) and his Jewish pal (Gordon), although they're not on-screen nearly enough. And I haven't even mentioned the problems with making a comedy in which your heroine is a (frankly unlikely) murderer. Do I need to?

cert 12 themes, violence 1.Apr.10

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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall