By Nneka Chile
Lagos, February 16 (Reuters) – Indian-Nigerian restaurant owner Hamisha Daryani Ahuja gave up her long-running business to pursue her dream of making movies.
Two years later, the 36-year-old will see her first feature film, the cross-cultural love story “Namaste Wahala”, debut on Valentine’s Day on Netflix.
The film, whose title translates in Hindi and Nigerian pidgin as ‘Hello trouble’, tells the tale of a Nigerian woman who falls in love with an Indian investment banker living in Lagos. The young couple face a series of challenges – including their families – to be together.
“I wanted to do something that will be more relatable so it is a full-on Nollywood movie, but I brought in some Indian actors to make it a little bit more fun,” Daryani Ahuja, who directed, executive produced and acted in the movie, told Reuters.
“What I tried to do is the ‘90s style Bollywood … the singing and dancing around trees. We have all of that. It is a very cheesy, mushy romantic drama.”
Born of Indian parents, Daryani Ahuja has lived most of her life in Nigeria.
“I have lived in an Indian house, I know the Nigerian culture, the pidgin, the food and it is so interesting how even though everybody thinks with ‘Namaste Wahala’ the cultures are different, we are actually so similar,” she said.
“We are actually all one, and that’s the whole theme of the movie.”
The 110-minute film stars Indian actor Ruslaan Mumtaz and Nigerian actress Ini Dima-Okojie in the lead roles.
“It is very important to make films like this when you show cross-cultural love stories, because in every country … people just separate each other as far as religion is concerned,” Mumtaz said. “Especially in India, you can’t marry somebody if they are from a different religion or from a different caste.”
Mainly shot in English, the movie had a production team of more than 60 people across India and Nigeria. Production was completed before lockdowns made making movies difficult; the original release date was April.
“The thing I love the most are the underlying messages which is the beauty in embracing your similarities, the beauty in embracing love even if you are from different backgrounds,” Dima-Okojie said.
Putting out hundreds of movies and television episodes a month, Nollywood is the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood.
Nigeria has a growing base of Bollywood fans, who watch its sitcoms subtitled in English, and “Namaste Wahala” is creating a buzz online.
Daryani Ahuja says she hopes to make a sequel in the coming months.
Ruslaan’s Interview in to Sana Farzeen of Indian Express
ctor Ruslaan Mumtaz is excited for the release of his latest project, an inter-racial romance titled Namaste Wahala. The film, starring Nigerian actor Ini Dima-Okojie in the lead role, will premiere on Netflix on February 14.
Ruslaan plays an Indian investment banker Raj in this completely Bollywood-styled international film. He falls in love at first sight with the Nigerian lawyer Didi (Ini Dima-Okojie) and the couple has to overcome cultural barriers before they can get their happily ever after. Added to their worries are their parents, who only make matters of love tougher for them.
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Ruslaan Mumtaz talks about bagging this crossover film, his experience working with an African team and why Namaste Wahala is going to be the perfect Valentine’s Day watch.
Excerpts from the conversation…
How did Namaste Wahala happen?
The director Hamisha Ahuja was looking for an Indian actor and she really liked my face for she thought I looked exactly like a Bollywood hero. The film was made with an African cast and was supposed to release only in Africa. I remember the stylist of the film told me that it’s a great project but won’t help me in my career, as it won’t be released in India. I took it up with that mindset and said yes only for the experience. When would I have ever gotten a chance to romance an African girl or even do a crossover film like this? And see, now, one year later, it’s a Netflix original and the whole world will get to see the film.https://www.youtube.com/embed/wJzCtDD-FDQ?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
From the trailer, it looks like a typical Bollywood film. You are named Raj, there’s a love conflict and even some song and dance sequences.
Technically, Namaste Wahala is a Bollywood film from soul. From what I have come to know people in Nigeria love Bollywood and for them Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan are like God. Hamisha wanted to thus make a similar film for the audience there. She wanted to make a concept film with all the drama, so that they get a flavour of Bollywood in their own films. Also, the culture of both the countries are very similar. From parents frowning on inter-caste marriage to modern girls being judged, the situation all boils down to the same.
Tell us something about your experience shooting for the film?
The best part was that they had all worked so hard on the script, and there wasn’t much for me to add. Honestly, it’s a very simple and real film. The dialogues are also like real life conversations. The pre-production was done very well as they followed a lot of parameters before going on floors. On set also, everything was so smooth. The team knew what they were doing, the shots were pre-planned, so it was a very relaxed and easy time for me. The actors there are so passionate and dedicated, that I was in awe of their hard work. I somewhere thought that nobody who knows me would watch the film, so I was chilled out. And now I am worried since the whole world will get to see my performance (laughs). Hopefully they all will like it.
The trailer has your character saying, “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”. He even proposes marriage on the first meet. Do you believe in this love theory too?
Not just love, I feel it’s the theory in life. Destiny is what leads us to everything. I really believe that if something has to come to you, it will and if not, how much ever you try, it won’t work out. Look at this film, it came out of nowhere, was not even supposed to release in India and now it’s on the biggest platform for the world to see.
Also, did you have to ‘charm your way’ into your wife Nirali Mehta’s parents heart too, just like your on-screen character?
Absolutely I did do that. And also, answering your previous question in terms of my life, Nirali and I met when we were kids at Shaimak Davar’s dance studio. I liked her but never imagined we would end up together. It was Shaimak, who had told me that you will marry her someday, and I had laughed at his absurd comment. We are very different people, and come from different cultures and religions. So her parents too had their doubts and had even said no when she first told them about me. A year later, I met them, told them how much I love her. I also assured them that my career or religion will never come in the way of her happiness. They understood that and that one meeting changed everything for us.https://www.instagram.com/p/CJgMmvBMbOg/embed/?cr=1&v=13&wp=540&rd=https%3A%2F%2Findianexpress.com&rp=%2Farticle%2Fentertainment%2Fweb-series%2Fruslaan-mumtaz-namaste-wahala-is-a-bollywood-film-from-soul-7180957%2F#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A4686.6200000513345%2C%22ls%22%3A3658.335000043735%2C%22le%22%3A3812.77499999851%7D
Why do you think Namaste Wahala should be the perfect Valentine’s Day watch?
Firstly, it’s a very romantic film, perfect for Valentine’s Day. I won’t say it’s a very different story but yes, this couple is quite unique and so are their ways. I am sure you all will enjoy watching it.
What did you take back from the film?
That ‘if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be’. Destiny is above all. Also, I must add a word of credit for the director who has made this happen. Harmisha has been saying it’s going to be a big project from day one. She really has inspired me with her dedication and belief. She also has a young child, and yet managed to pull off a film so beautifully. I think women today are just amazing. If they take up something they see through it what may come.
You started with films, then did TV, and now you are also on the web. Which medium will you focus on in the coming days?
Sometime back I realised that there is no format or formula to success. You just need to keep working without worrying about what would click or become big. Hence, I don’t worry about the makers, medium or which country would it release. All I want to do is some good roles. And I love acting, so I would rather spend my time on set rather than waiting at home thinking what I could have done.
You recently became a dad, so did the lockdown come as a blessing to you since you got to spend so much time with your son?
Yes, it was beautiful to see him grow. It was worrisome when he was born during the lockdown. We didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, so hadn’t bought any clothes. And then the whole country was in the lockdown when he was born. My poor baby was just in his nappies most of the time. Some good souls then contacted us on Facebook and offered their kids’ clothes and toys, which we humbly accepted. It was a surreal time.