Namaste Wahala Movie Review: This Indo-Nigerian romance misses the mark
The Lagos-set film plays on Bollywood tropes, but doesn’t engage as a love story
Namaste Wahala is a rare Indo-Nigerian production, about an Indian boy, Raj, falling for a Nigerian girl, Didi, in Lagos. It’s a novel concept, given how few interracial love stories of its kind exist. There is, however, a deeper connection. Both India and Nigeria have strong national cinemas, and the film is best viewed as a union of two industries, and not the cultural landmark it claims to be.
The director is Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, a restaurant owner-turned-filmmaker in Lagos (she also appears as a character in the film). Hamisha, whose parents are Indian, pays tribute to the Hindi romcoms she loves. Investment banker Raj (Ruslaan Mumtaz) meets NGO lawyer Didi (Ini Dima-Okojie) and instantly decides to marry her. Didi’s father (Richard Mofe-Damijo) objects to the proposition — the OG conflict in a Bollywood romance. Raj even says, “This isn’t a Bollywood movie,” which can only mean it is.
Cast: Ruslaan Mumtaz, Ini Dima-Okojie, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sujata Sehgal
Director: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja
Streaming on: Netflix
The template isn’t perfect. The pop track I Don’t Wanna Let You Go tips its hats to numerous Hindi numbers, but, lacking background dancers, falls woefully flat. Similarly, when Raj and Didi have an argument — their first true emotional moment in the film — the exchange is interrupted by a call from his mom.
Actor Sujata Sehgal enlivens proceeds as she lands in Nigeria and besieges her son’s life. When she first meets Didi, her blanched expression gives away a lot, though outwardly she worries if an African girl can make chole bhatures like her. There’s another amusing character, Raj’s best friend Emma (Koye Kekere Ekun), seemingly written to interpret the culture shock for foreign viewers (Raj turning up in a western outfit to meet Didi’s parents isn’t funny until Emma explains why it is).
Though Raj has the typical hero-sounding name, the film is told from Didi’s perspective. She spends a chunk of the plot contesting her own domineering father. She’s headstrong and ambitious — a break from the weeping, obsequious heroines of 90s Bollywood. In one scene, she engages her would-be mother-in-law in competitive cooking. It’s a heavily contrived moment, one familiar to most Bollywood fans, yet Dima-Okojie rescues it with her natural spunk.
An even better subversion of a popular trope comes later on. In DDLJ (1995), Anupam Kher leaves everything behind to help his lovelorn son. Raj’s dad in Namaste Wahala is liberal too, but can’t be bothered to leave his cricket match and join the farce. Leave your kids alone, he seems to say, they’ll figure it out.