It’s a Wonderful Afterlife
Grey-painted spirits, peeling dead skin, rotting intestines and kidneys dangling out of the stomach—there are enough macabre stunts in Gurinder Chadha’s new film It’s a Wonderful Afterlife. They are meant to be silly. In fact, the entire film is pure silliness, hinged on a typical story of a desi British mother (Shabana Azmi) going to murderous lengths to get her daughter (Goldy Notay) married.
Chadha’s home turf is the British Indian immigrant experience. But her best films, Bhaji on the Beach (1993), What’s Cooking? (2000) and the widely popular Bend It Like Beckham (2002) didn’t entirely dwell on the obvious: identity crisis, rootlessness or racial prejudice. They are humorous films that reveal characters whose “desi-ness” is secondary, if not incidental.
Other-worldly: The ghost entourage in Chadha’s movie adds a comical, supernatural twist to the story.
In It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, Chadha experiments with the genre of comedy called the Ealing comedy, named after a series of British comedies produced by the Ealing Studios from the late 1940s to 1950s, most of which satirized bourgeois English life. The best of Ealing comedies had elements of horror meant not for suspenseful twists, but for humorous effect. Chadha’s film follows the same idiom, but it isn’t quite as humorous as it could have been. The writing is mediocre, leaving most of the work to actors and technicians.
A series of murders by a mysterious “curry killer” rattle the police force of a suburban English neighbourhood. The opening scene is that of a gory curry spurt from the stomach of a dying Indian man. The story then shifts to the family of Mrs Sethi, a distressed widow who is obsessed with finding a man for her daughter Roopi, a social worker who is nursing a heartbreak and whose weight is the subject of constant mockery by all the Indians known to the family. Mrs Sethi’s son is a deejay, with “no real job”, who walks in and out of the frame in marijuana-induced stupor. A prime suspect for the murders is Roopi, who is being investigated by a tall-dark-and-handsome Indian cop D.S. Murthy (Sendhil Ramamurthy). Mrs Sethi is followed by some ghosts, who she can talk to and who are going to benefit from her death.
The ghost entourage lends a comical, supernatural twist to the story, boosted by the bizarre antics of Roopi’s friend, a British girl (Sally Hawkins) who is enamoured of mumbo-jumbo Indian mysticism. She thinks she can feel spirits and cleanse auras.
Murder and gore are treated like child’s play, which have the potential to be very effective tools if the bizarreness of it is eventually meant to be ironical. In Chadha’s film, they are justified by ordinary motherly worries. The entire story is finally pointless because as Hindu belief goes, after death we become spirits and we reincarnate as worms or saints, based on our actions in this life.
There are some funny moments in the film but most of what happens is so silly that you can neither laugh out loud nor cringe.
Azmi is at her best, giving the character of Mrs Sethi dignity and a ruthless edge which is somewhat justified by the climax. Notay makes Roopi believable and endearing. Don’t expect more than a few laughs from It’s a Wonderful Afterlife.
These days one goes to watch a Yash Raj Films production with a degree of trepidation. After all, their track record over the last few years has been less than satisfactory. But with Badmaash Company they somewhat redeem themselves and Shahid Kapoor gets a better canvas than his earlier outing with them in Dil Bole Hadippa!
Much of what Badmaash Company has going for it comes from the captain of the ship. While this is his first feature film, director Parmeet Sethi successfully makes the transition to direction. His script is interesting, his dialogues natural and witty and the direction—for the most part—is accomplished. If he falters anywhere, it is with the screenplay.
Fun story: The acting in Badmaash Company is impressive.
It’s circa 1994. Three friends— Karan (Kapoor), Chandu (Vir Das) and Zing (Meiyang Chang)— who have just finished college get a freebie trip to Bangkok as carriers for a small-time smuggler. Accompanying them is Bulbul (Anushka Sharma), an aspiring model and a carrier. Together they paint Bangkok red. Getting a taste of the good life, the ambitious and intelligent Karan rejects his father’s middle-class life and ideals, and dreams of fast cars, mansions and designer wear. He is focused on entrepreneurship and a fast track to fortune.
Enlisting Chandu, Zing and Bulbul, Karan leads the group as he hatches ingenious scams and plots to make quick and big bucks. Karan often says it’s all about the big idea. Determined, he even forsakes his family in order to pursue his dreams, which take him to New York. Here, as con upon con works, things begin to unravel for the foursome and Karan becomes a victim of the corrupting nature of power.
With the message that there’s no short cut to success and only hard work and honesty win respect, Badmaash Company is a fun story with some smart cons and impressive performances. However, the absence of any truly interesting twists and a sluggish second half dilutes the impact. The over-used stylized camerawork and tuneless songs tend to grate.
Sethi manages to get the best out of Sharma and Kapoor. Kapoor brings arrogance, tenderness and pathos to the part. Das and Chang offer solid support. Badmaash Company will appeal mostly to Kapoor’s fans.
It’s a Wonderful Afterlife and Badmaash Company released in theatres on Friday.