Namaste Wahala is, for most parts, a light-hearted rom-com, with predictable turns of events as it examines cross-cultural marriage. For those who love a cheesy romance, Namaste Wahala would make a decent watch, as it has enough cheese to make several double-decker burgers. However, the movie fumbles in its attempt to introduce conflict and character depth.
The movie, written and directed by first-time director, Hamisha Darniya Ahuja, was released on Valentine’s day this year. Its cast includes, amongst others: Ruslan Mumtaz, Ini Dima-Okojie, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Joke Silva, and Osas Ighodaro. It begins with a cut on cut scene of the main characters, Didi (Ini Dima-Okojie) and Rajesh (Ruslan Mumtaz), each getting ready to go jogging. This start gives their romance a predestined feel and before they lock eyes on the beach, we already know what’s going to happen. Even after the encounter on the beach, they’re still strangers to each other. In another stroke of the divine, Cupid or whatever, they soon meet again at an event for an NGO Didi works with. Of course, their romance blossoms, and they enjoy three months of paradise. Soon though, they have to contend with their respective parents for the approval of their union.
Namaste Wahala gives us the cliche, visually cheery scenes which seems to be quite the hit with current Nollywood filmmakers. There were generous dashes of color on the set and in costume. The movie also manages to capture Lagos in, admittedly unrealistic, brilliant light. This perhaps makes sense in consideration of the social class of the characters but there’s something to be said about how obviously curated the montages were. The director also borrows elements from Bollywood which makes the movie even cheesier. The best instance was when Raj suddenly burst into song. This is the biggest risk the movie takes and the only, maybe, surprise it presents.
Despite being a rom-com, Namaste Wahala struggles with keeping up the comedy. There were a lot of cringe lines and although the writers tried to keep it fresh with the use of several languages (English, Yoruba, Igbo, Hindi), it sometimes seemed like the actors were struggling to come across as funny. Another reason why the movie had problems staying in its comic genre is the attempt to add depth and complexity to the plot, because of the nature of the case Didi had to work on. This immediately changed the atmosphere of the movie from light-hearted to serious. It’s difficult to make comedy out of sensitive subjects. Strange enough, it also seems to fail at depicting romance. Besides that throwback to the old Bollywood singing scene, there’s really nothing romantic about Didi and Raj’s relationship. We barely get to see them together without some family drama occurring. Even in their first two meetings, where they attempt to do the lost in each other’s eyes, love at first sight thing comes across as unconvincing. There isn’t enough chemistry between the lead actors.
Paying close attention to the movie, it becomes obvious that it plays safe on many counts and is nearly formulaic with its plot. There is a seemingly careful selection of plot devices and elements that have proven over time to be successful with moviegoers. Two instances of this, from the movie, include the scene with the taxi driver, played by Broda Shaggi, and Rajesh’s mother, Meera, (Sujata Sehga), as well as the stock character of spiteful, mostly female, antagonist embodied by Preemo (Osas Ighodaro). In the first instance, this trope in its many variations is often found in Nollywood movies: a loud, raucous exchange between a semiliterate, working-class character and another who’s supposed to be the opposite of this. It often works like magic for creating comic relief and the makers of Namaste Wahala knew that it would most likely work in their favor. As for the second instance, what’s a movie without some good ol’ conflict? Now make that what’s a movie without the narrative of conflict between women?
The writers of the movie tried their hand at creating strong feminist-inclined characters. It started out okay, with a sex-positive character like Angie (Imoh Eboh) and the visible thread of a daughter standing up to her patriarch father (Richard Mofe-Damijo). Frankly, though, it got amusing to see all the flaws of this attempt. There’s slut-shaming and victim-blaming. There’s also that interesting bit of advice Shola gives Angie. Then making Didi, our strong female lead, need Raj’s help in a situation critical to her character development? All these and, sadly, so much more take the movie down by several points.
Also, this is yet another Nollywood movie centered around upper-middle-class Nigerians. That’s basically 1% of the population that’s getting portrayed in cinema time and time again. When will the realities of the 99% make it to the big screen as much? Perhaps it’s for reasons like this that Omo Ghetto broke the box office. We must also discuss the use of comedians, influencers, and other B-list celebrities in Nollywood. M.I appeared in a scene in the movie and it would be upbraiding his act to call it a cameo. His appearance was completely unnecessary and did nothing to further the plot. Nollywood needs to understand that a successful movie has little to do with the famous faces on the cast list, and more to do with how good the story is in conjunction with excellent publicity.
Interestingly, Namaste Wahala reminds me of Isoken, another Nollywood movie with a similar storyline but done more tastefully. The emotions come across better in Isoken than in Namaste Wahala. While Isoken isn’t a rom-com, trying to balance romance and comedy, it handles the subject of cross-cultural marriage more deftly. Namaste Wahala is at the end of the day an entertaining movie if you don’t take it too seriously and ignore its flaws.