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Both enjoyable and touching at the same time, 'Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee' is watchable from beginning to end...
Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee
Three thirty-something women, friends since childhood, are desperate to find their own happy endings, but wonder if they really are content when they eventually find them. Chila (Ayesha Dharker) couldn't have a better life ahead of her after marrying the Prince Charming of Chigwell, Deepak (Ace Bhatti), but are they really in love with each other, or did they only do what they thought they should do? Sunita (Meera Syal) is a seemingly perfect wife and mother, but her relationship with her husband Akaash (Sanjeev Bhaskar) lost its spark long ago. Tania (Laila Rouass) is a hard-nosed up-and-coming television filmmaker who refuses to be viewed as an Asian, but when she is asked to make a documentary about her friends and family, what she finds ends up uncovering some uncomfortable home truths about everyone concerned. These women may have to learn the hard way that "life isn't all ha ha hee hee".
Multiple threat Meera Syal has had a successful career as a comedienne over the last few years, which makes her foray into drama with 'Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee' all the more surprising. To be honest, I've grown exhausted with Syal's continual lampooning of Indian stereotypes in her hit show "Goodness Gracious Me", and while it's inoffensive, there's always a feeling that only a fraction of Syal's writing and acting talent is on display. In 2002, with the news that she was adapting her excellent novel 'Anita and Me' for the big screen, there came a promise that Syal would finally reveal to the world what lay beyond her grating Mrs. Kumar persona. Sadly, 'Anita and Me' was a deflated experience, with the balance of cheeriness and seriousness being bungled pretty badly by director Metin Hüseyin. Syal wasn't entirely to blame, as the short running time and family-friendly nature of the film undoubtedly played a part in forcing her to rip out large chunks of her award-winning book. For her latest project, though, Syal has been blessed with the luxury of a three-hour running time, and a skilled director (Andy De Emmony), who injects less style than was present in 'Anita and Me', but accomplishes far more than Hüseyin ever could.
On paper, and sometimes on screen too, 'Ha Ha Hee Hee' almost resembles an intentional follow-up to 'Anita and Me', not just in terms of the acting pedigree of the picture, but the storyline as well. Syal (co-writing with Abi Morgan, 'Sex Traffic') once again delights in displaying the quirks and charms of Indian culture, with the ethnicity of the characters adding a touch of spice to a straightforward dramedy. But at the same time, the focus of Syal's story (which, like 'Anita and Me', is loosely based on her own experiences) reminds us that Asian women are just like anybody else, without ever preaching it from the metaphorical rooftop. In fact, Syal's commentary on the state of "British Asian, Anglo-Indian or whatever they're calling us" relationships seems to be an inadvertent by-product of the dramatic can of worms she has opened. I'm sure many white women could relate to Chila, Tania and Sunita, and their respective plights will remain an interest for everybody else as well. 'Ha Ha Hee Hee' isn't all tears and gloom, however, as there's plenty of opportunity for Syal to implement her comedic writing skills. Despite it all, it's quite an entertaining piece of work, and little of the humour is forced the way it was in her previous adaptation. Both enjoyable and touching at the same time, 'Ha Ha Hee Hee' is watchable from beginning to end. You just couldn't say that about 'Anita and Me'.
There's also a tremendous amount of help from the performances, which are easily commendable. Once you get past the number of returning faces from 'Anita and Me', it becomes difficult to distinguish actor from character. The supporting performers do as they're told, but expectedly, it's the three stars of the production who carry the spirit of 'Ha Ha Hee Hee' along. Actress Laila Rouass (of "Footballers' Wives" fame) is faced with some pretty dastardly deeds that her character ends up doing, but instead of hate for Tania, Rouass manages to summon feelings of pity for her. As the maturest of the group, Sunita has slightly fewer problems going on in her life, but Syal makes the character just as memorable, infusing her with the actress's natural charm. Shockingly, it's not Syal herself who steals the show, but actress Ayesha Dharker. With wide eyes and an even wider smile, Dharker becomes every part the doting but neglected wife (a breakthrough role, I'm sure), and has her share of scene-stealing moments, especially during the third and final part of the series. It's a good thing, too, as Chila is in some ways more crucial to the plot than the other two women.
For all its virtues, 'Ha Ha Hee Hee' concludes a little predictably, and there's a feeling that Syal decided to play it safer than she wanted to. But it's still executed with a bittersweet smile by everybody, and it should prove difficult to not be saddened as farewells are bid to Sunita and the rest. As the optimistic Chila observes about life in general, 'Ha Ha Hee Hee' isn't really about the ending, but a million little surprises all of the way through. It's far from the best drama or comedy around, and is certainly not as noteworthy as the similar (albeit much less realistic) "Desperate Housewives", but it's nice to have relatable characters and situations presented on screen in a light enough way...innit?
~ 8/10 ~
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