Gurinder Chadha’s It’s A Wonderful Afterlife revolves around a wedding. Interestingly, several of Chadha’s films, whether it’s Monsoon Wedding, Bride And Prejudice or even Bend It Like Beckham, revolves around one. Quiz her on this and the filmmaker points out that marriage is uppermost on the minds of almost every Indian.
“From the time a girl is born, she is being moulded into a perfect bride who is supposed to be fair, beautiful, submissive, definitely not more intelligent than her husband and able to serve a ‘desi’ meal in minutes,” points out Chadha, admitting that her mother got her bridal suit stitched when she was visiting her parents in India. Gurinder was only six at the time. “The suit was pink with classic embroidery and I got matching gold sets made too. I wore it when I married Paul (Mayeda_Berges) when I was in my 30s. It was still beautiful,” she reminisces with a smile.
The climax of her soon-to-release film has an elaborate wedding sequence for which the writer-director wanted to replicate a big fat Punjabi wedding. And to make it as ‘real’ as possible, she sent out invitations to her extended family in London who came together to join in the on-screen revelry. “We even got a priest from a ‘gurdwara’ in Southhall to conduct the rites,” she informs. What’s more, Chadha gave one of her bridal outfits to actress Goldy Notay to wear and made sure that everyone who was part of the scene was in their Sunday best.
The film is the story of a widow from Southall, Mrs Sethi, played by Shabana Azmi, who is obesssed with getting her daughter Roopi (Goldy Notay) settled. A number of suitors come calling but are put off by the overweight, not-exactly-beautiful, opinated bride-to-be with a broken engagement behind her. But every time Roopi is turned down, the groom-in-waiting disappears.
Using a killer curry, Mrs Sethi turns into a serial murderer who evades the police but not the spirits of her victims. Since they cannot be reincarnated until she dies and the murdering mother refuses to leave this world till her darling has found her Mr Right, the ghosts join hands to make the dream wedding come true.
Letter from suitors
Chadha recalls that when her husband Paul (Mayeda Berges) came to ask for her hand in marriage, her father showed him all the letters of those before him who had wanted to marry his daughter. “I hadn’t even know that he had horded them, it was really sweet,” she smiles.
The idea for It’s A Wonderful AfterLife came to her when she was watching The 100 Greatest Family Films’ on Channel 4 and narrator Bob Hoskins introduced the wedding scene from her movie, Bend It Like Beckham at No. 71. “I immediately remembered how much fun we’d had shooting that scene and wanted to replicate the experience without repeating myself. I thought maybe I could do it with a horror spin, where everything goes awry,” she informs.
It took two-and-a-half years for this My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Shaun Of The Dead script, on which she was working with her long-time collaborator and screenwriter husband Mayeda Berges, to shape up to her satisfaction. They went to the floors with it with the working title My Bloody Wedding.