Film

Death by Chicken Tikka Masala in It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

by

A lady-murderer is loose in West London’s Indian community, using food as her deadly weapon—knife-point feedings of lava-hot vindaloo or suffocation by naan-dough. On this macabre setup, writer/director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) lays out a banquet of fretful Indian mama humor. Homicidally overprotective widowed mum Mrs. Sethi (Shabana Azmi) is our unlikely culprit, ready to put a chicken-tikka kebab through the throat of anyone who ridicules the marriage prospects for her frowsy daughter, Roopi (Goldy Notay). The best-bet suitor arrives as Raj (Sendhil Ramamurthy), the matinee-idol detective investigating the killings, bringing with him enough complications to prolong resolution to feature-length. Meanwhile, Mrs. Sethi is beset by a chorus of her victims’ restless ghosts, seen only by her and Roopi’s best friend, an ashram-frequenting Anglo wannabe played by Sally Hawkins. Hawkins has some good bits, as does a dry Zoë Wanamaker as Mrs. Sethi’s neighbor—in fact, it’s hard to take issue with the cast. But issue must be taken: Wonderful Afterlife’s genre-hopping, including a replay of Carrie’s finale with an exploding buffet at an Indian wedding, seems a stab at the successful channel-surf frolic of Spaced, but every gag is smothered by the prevailing tone of labored zaniness and generic, plucky “mischief music” alerting discerning viewers to abandon all hope of laughter.