All of us know a Mrs Sethi, the affectionate, over-bearing, marriage-hungry mother that Shabana Azmi plays in It?s a Wonderful Afterlife.
Your aunt, neighbour, mother, or friend?s mother might be this woman who, more than anything else in the world, wants you to ?get settled.? In life, these women are usually very annoying. But it is to Shabana?s credit that she never lets Mrs Sethi cross into caricature.
Despite all the craziness surrounding her, which includes murders with poisoned ladoos and over-spiced curries, several ghosts and a fat, unmarried daughter, Mrs Sethi remains wonderfully human.
Shabana, seriously overweight, harried and unkempt, keeps Mrs Sethi?s emotions rooted and moving.
Unfortunately the film, co-written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, cannot match Shabana?s performance.
Chadha, who at her best like in Bend it like Beckham, displays a wonderful ability to juggle genres, chooses here to create a broad, farcical comedy set in London?s Southall.
When Mrs Sethi?s daughter, Roopi, played nicely by Goldy Notay, is rejected by too many suitors, Mrs Sethi goes over the edge and starts to murder them or their parents, who in turn come back as ghosts. For these ghosts to be re-incarnated, Mrs Sethi must die but she won?t do that until Roopi is married so the ghosts join the marry-Roopi mission.
Sendhil Ramamurthy, pointedly named Raj after legions of Shah Rukh Khan characters, is the devilishly charming detective, who steps in as Prince Charming.
Chadha isn?t aiming for anything more than innocuous fun and in parts, It?s a Wonderful Afterlife accomplishes that. The awkward matchmaking sessions; the disapproving aunties, one of whom declares that Roopi is bigger than the boys she meets; and Sally Hawkins as Roopi?s psychic best friend who destroys her engagement party in a destructive spree inspired by the cult horror film Carrie, are great fun.
Chadha leavens the jokes with an undercurrent of real sadness and desperation.
But It?s a Wonderful Afterlife never achieves full lift off. There are too many dull stretches. The film has the texture of a clunky television sitcom.
The writing isn?t sparkling enough and after a while, the ghosts with their incessant chatter and peeling skin start to grate on your nerves.
There are moments of affection and sweetness but It?s a Wonderful Afterlife is purposefully silly and way over the top. If that sounds like your cup of tea, by all means go for it.
If nothing else, the ladies can swoon over the dreamy Sendhil.