Gurinder Chadha After Life Review

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

Depression time! I screened It’s a Wonderful After Life, directed by Gurinder Chadha. I bought a ticket and popcorn because I try to follow Shabana Azmi around. She was just spectacular in Umrao Jaan as the madam in a house of song and sin. Big mistake! I found myself looking at a story that is responsible for my flight from Hollywood.

I screen Indian movies because I cannot bear to see another Hollywood story about who done it, police officers who are under pressure from their bosses, a car that is parked outside tapping conservation from a police officer who has a wire, an interrogation room etc. What happened to human beings’ capacity to think, and come up with new stories?

Most of all, I left Hollywood because of the joke about food, the classic one being hitting somebody with a cream cake or falling over a cream cake. There I was in a cinema theatre watching opening scenes about somebody being forced to eat a mountain of curry and an operating theatre where it all bursts open.

Should I walk out? Is this a Hollywood movie or a film from an independent cinema director like Gurinder Chadha who gave us Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice? The thought of Shabana Azmi in the movie Umrao Jaan held me back.

It’s a Wonderful After Life is about murders that revolve around food. Apparently, there had been three previous murders in Southall, a predominantly India area in London. The film is centred on four ghosts and the unknown murderer.

Mrs. Sethi, Shabana Azmi’s character is the only person who can see these ghosts for the simple reason that she killed them. The link to the murders seems to be Roopi, her daughter (Goldy Notay) who cannot find a husband because she is over weight.

Roopi holds the film together with her love for food and the fact that she is basically a very good person. She works in a shelter for abused women and loves her mother despite the fact that she is always arranging marriage for her.

Roopi and her mother meet Raj, a police officer who happens to be a childhood friend (Sendhil Ramamurthy). Raj has been recently transferred to Southall and is given the assignment to investigate the murders.

British film Truly Madly Deeply
My mind switches to reverse. I remember Truly, Madly, Deeply directed by Anthony Minghella, starring the character-embracing Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. Minghella went on to direct The English Patient. I suppose I’m such a cinema buff because I lived opposite Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, adjacent to the Maple Leaf Gardens.

That is where I first screened Truly, Madly, Deeply a film about ghosts. Nina, played by Juliet Stevenson cannot get over the death of her boyfriend Jamie, played by Alan Rickman. She cries when she plays the piano, which reminds her of him. In fact, everything does. “Walk in the middle of the road,” Jamie used to advise Nina when she’s walking home from the tube station at night.

Enter Mark, played by Michael Maloney. He is in love with Nina, but Nina has all these ghosts in her flat, re-arranging furniture, watching old black and white movies and making a pest of them selves. She is the only one that can see Jamie the ghost and his ghost friends. The same thing happens in It’s a Wonderful After Life. Mrs. Sethi can talk to the ghosts but Roopi her daughter and other people can’t.

Reason for the murders
The film is supposed to be a comedy but it also shows the pain of a parent who sees her daughter rejected for superficial reasons like her weight. Roopi is extremely beautiful but nobody seems to notice that, except Raj her childhood friend. Mrs. Sethi killed the ghosts because they were all responsible for her daughter’s humiliation, when they rejected her for marriage.

The ghosts have come back to take Mrs. Sethi. That is the only way she can have peace. It is not a good idea to have ghosts skulking around. In Truly Madly Deeply, Jamie came back because he couldn’t stand seeing Nina pine after him. He came back as a ghost to make her see sense and move on. He brought his ghost crew to make her fall in love with Mark. They returned to ghost land after seeing her happy.

Mrs. Sethi had to die if she wanted the ghosts to disappear in It’s a Wonderful After Life. She tried to kill herself but accidentally killed her neighbour, Juliet Stephenson’s character and her dog. I would never have screened the film if I had known it is about that tired Hollywood story about cops and wire-tapping. It does have its moments though, like the ghost with many wives admitting that he’s a better person as a ghost.

Talking about Hollywood, one of the ads before the movie was about a big budget film with big star names. The story line? They are former CIA agents and someone wants to kill them. They must resolve their differences and find the culprit. Does the plot line sound familiar? I just don’t expect to find that in what I regard as independent cinema.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.

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