namaste wahala

Directors: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja
Writers: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, Temitope Bolade, Diche Enunwa
Cast: Ini Dima Okojie, Ruslaan Mumtaz, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Joke Silva
Streaming on: Netflix

The lead characters of Namaste Wahala know they’re in a movie. Why else would they choose to run towards each other on the beach in slow-motion, an approximation of Bollywood music playing in the background, until the inevitable collision becomes their meet-cute? Why would they then proceed to collide multiple times in case the audience missed the point the first time around? They even coincidentally have the same motto, “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” which is presented as evidence of how right they are for each other, but which only reminds viewers that they’re written to be so.

Every aspect of the Netflix film is dialed up to 11, giving it the unintentional effect of not just parodying Nollywood and Bollywood movies, but cinema itself. The characters don’t cry, they wail. Strangers don’t merely find each other attractive, they fall in love at first sight. A mention of sex also includes the description, “in weird positions, upside down”. And this is just the first 15 minutes.

Once the Indian-born investment banker Raj (Ruslaan Mumtaz, introduced via a shot of just his abs) and Nigerian activist Didi (Ini Dima-Okojie) meet, meet once again and fall in love (established through a song-and-dance sequence on the beach), they decide to get married. Though their cultures are different, the one thing that unites them is their cartoonishly over-the-top villain parents, whose violent xenophobia is played for laughs. In one of the film’s most poorly staged and awkwardly timed scenes, Didi’s father comes down the stairs drinking a glass of water, pauses for a full second on seeing that his daughter’s boyfriend is Indian and then spits it out dramatically. Raj’s mother slut-shames Didi and insists on sharing a bed with her so Raj can’t, but the film glosses over her overly controlling nature in favour of showing her fart through the night, a bit that goes on for longer than it should.

The wall-to-wall background score doesn’t help. Every moment is underscored by heightened music that tells viewers exactly how they should feel. A particularly baffling sound choice comes when Raj’s Nigerian friend suggests that he gift Didi’s parents a goat, a statement punctuated by a bleating noise.

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When the film isn’t being laughably hyperbolic, it’s using the issue of abuse against women to further the couple’s relationship. When Raj and Didi meet a second time and exchange cringy flirtations, it’s at a charity event for abused women. Didi moves out of her parents’ house and into Raj’s after her defence of an abuse survivor angers her father, a lawyer on the abuser’s legal team. The couple fights but reunites after Raj pulls some strings and helps Didi get the crucial evidence she needs to win the case. The abuse thread is at odds with the rest of the candy-coloured movie and attempts to relegate the more serious issue to a subplot in the couple’s relationship are not only jarring, but offensive. Internalized misogyny is also baked into the script, with Didi’s mother advising her friend against casual sex with the line, “Who buys the cow when you can get the milk for free?” By the end, Raj’s cousin (played by director Hamisha Daryani Ahuja) gets his mother to agree to the marriage by convincing her that Didi will still cook and take care of Raj despite having her own career to focus on.

On the face of it, Namaste Wahala is a cross-cultural romance designed to appeal to both fans of Nollywood and Hollywood. The hamfisted writing and direction, however, is likely to put off both.

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