All of us remember Jess demanding Who wants to make aloo gobi when you can bend the ball like Beckham? in that charming comedy Bend it like Beckham in 2002. Gurinder Chadha had created a film that was warm, witty and also introduced the world to the lovely Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley. This was followed by the disappointing Jane Austen update Bride and Prejudice in 2004.
While It's a Wonderful Afterlife is not as bad as Bride, it is definitely not as good as Beckham. The unevenness of tone drags the movie this way and that. Chadha does not make up her mind whether to make a typical Southall comedy, a social study, a rom com or a zombie film. One is not sure whether to smile or to get spooked out or to feel sorry for the protagonists. Maybe Southall humour and gory deaths don't mix though Chadha showcased her remarkable storytelling skills when she brought the disparate elements of Southall and football together.
A killer is on the loose in Southall, killing members of the Indian community in a variety of creative and painful ways. The common thread in the killings is Indian cooking one is killed with a rolling pin, another suffocated by chapatti dough, a third poisoned with a laddoo, one skewered with a kebab and one has his stomach horrifically torn open by force feeding spicy curry.
All the victims seem connected to the Sethi family. Mrs. Sethi is worried about finding a husband for her daughter Roopi, who does not score in the marriage market as she is plump and outspoken. Murthy, whose family stayed with the Sethis, when they first came to London is a policeman now and is assigned to go undercover to discover the truth behind the curry killings.
Rom com conventions are followed with meeting, falling in love, a misunderstanding and finally all coming together at Roopi's friend, the psychic and India loving Linda's engagement. Here too there is the unevenness of tone with the big fat Indian celebration disintegrating into a Carrie style prom night where Linda is bathed in buckets of saunth and all manner of Indian food is hurled on the walls. Like the man whose stomach is torn open with spicy curry, this also is a miscalculation as gargantuan portions of colourful curry on the wall do not provoke laughs, it only turns the stomach.
The cast does not exactly set the screen alight either, with the greatest disappointment being Shabana Azmi as Mrs. Sethi. While she has the matronly figure and the mannerisms, she does not make the role her own. At the end of the movie, when the cast and crew goof off to a brilliant remix of Stayin' Alive by Bally Sagoo, one is once again reminded of Beckham and the energetic Feeling Hot, Hot Hot. Sigh!MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER