It set me thinking as reel after reel of Gurinder Chadha's It's A Wonderful Afterlife unspooled. We (the Bollywood reviewers/critics) are extremely harsh on films produced on hometurf. We go hammer and tongs after these film-makers, as if they have committed a crime that they cannot be absolved of. We tend to ridicule films, its makers, the actors in those films… In fact, just about everyone associated with those films.
How about using the same yardstick for movies attempted by names that command tremendous respect in the West? We forgive them, most of the time. We even turn a blind eye, ignoring the deficiencies only because the West holds them in high esteem. The thought crosses our mind pretty often: Wouldn't we come across as complete nincompoops if we ridiculed them, even if they turn up with pure trash?
I am not going to mince words. With It's A Wonderful Afterlife, celebrated filmmaker Gurinder Chadha hits a new low. It actually makes me wonder, was Bend It Like Beckham a fluke? It's A Wonderful Afterlife is so insipid and hollow that it makes her previous film Bride & Prejudice, considered by many as her weakest film, look like an epic in comparison.
Final word? It's A Wonderful Afterlife had everything going in its favour. But let's not forget that great vegetables don't necessarily make a yummy meal. This Gurinder Chadha curry is just not palatable!
Mrs. Sethi (Shabana Azmi), a widow, can't bear the thought of her daughter being alone and unhappy. When Mrs. Sethi can no longer stomach the rudeness of families who refuse her daughter, she takes matters into her own hands with the only way she knows... Suddenly a police hunt begins for a serial murderer.
Mrs. Sethi doesn't feel too guilty until the spirits of her victims come back to haunt her, as they are unable to be reincarnated until their murderer dies. Mrs. Sethi has no problem killing herself - she'll get to see her dead husband again - but how can she go before her daughter is married? The spirits realize that helping Mrs. Sethi find a suitable husband for her daughter, before the police catch her, is their only chance for a wonderful afterlife.
On paper, perhaps, the story of It's A Wonderful Afterlife may sound tempting and alluring. At least I found it attention-grabbing when I first heard it, several weeks ago. But sitting through those 1.40 hours of this cinematic journey is an ordeal. Seriously, what were writers Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges thinking when they wrote the screenplay? Barely a few minutes into the film, you realize that Chadha has lost the plot already.
To state that the screenplay is shoddy would be putting it mildly. The only aspect that's amusing and which bears the unmistakable stamp of Chadha are the sequences between Shabana and the spirits. The love story is a total yawn, while the emotional moments are weak and the investigation of the murders is half-baked too. In fact, an investigating officer gets killed in the backyard of Shabana's home and guess what, the crime is conveniently forgotten, except when Senthil talks about it to Shabana. And why the beaten to death 'cancer' end? Gurinder seems to be watching too many (terrible) Bollywood films, seems like.
Talking of performances, Shabana is dependable, as always. Goldy Notay as Shabana's daughter is efficient. Sendhil Ramamurthy is alright. Jimi Mistry doesn't get ample scope. Sally Hawkins is first-rate. Mark Addy is passable. Sanjeev Bhaskar is wonderful. Shaheen Khan and Zoe Wanamaker (Shabana's next-door-neighbour) are decent.
On the whole, this one's a woeful experience, not wonderful by any standard!
Director - Gurindher Chadha
Cast - Shabana Azmi, Shaheen Khan, Goldy Notay, Sally Hawkins, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Zoe Wanamaker