The reactions to Namaste Wahala, Netflix’s latest Nollywood offering, have been polarising. Some folks think it is a waste of time; others believe it to be enjoyable. I believe it is the expectation that kills. Namaste Wahala was branded as a merger between the best of Bollywood with Nollywood, two film industries known for over-dramatization yet unique to each culture. However, what it delivers is a parody of both industries, a caricature of acting that underserves the two film industries it proudly represents. The faults lie with the writers (Diche Enunwa and Temitope Bolade-Akinbode) and director Hamisha Daryani Ahuja – the businesswoman turned filmmaker who lets her business side override the creative side. But that’s not just an Ahuja problem; it is a Nollywood problem.
Like most splashy Nollywood films, Namaste Wahala feels like content to showcase brands (Sterling Bank, MI’s Chocolate City, and Coke make appearances) instead of a movie with strategic and creative brand placement. A scene solely exists to promote Coca-Cola and M.I, which is weird because the former makes several appearances through the film, and the latter doesn’t need promotion. The scene features four cast members with several Coca-Cola bottles on their table and more at a counter behind them. Then a Coca-Cola branded refrigerator. It gets ridiculous when MI appears suddenly to merry with them. How interesting would life be if celebrities just walk into us having a good time and take selfies?
We have seen similar blatant brand placement in big-budget Nollywod films like chief Daddy (Keystone Bank) and Merry Men (Transcorp Hilton). The problem isn’t product placement — it is a common practice all over the world, and another avenue for producers to profit — the reason it gets a bad rep in Nollywood is how on the face it usually is. A Coca-Cola bottle can appear in a scene, but when several Coca-Cola products, including a fridge-load of them, appear, then we are veering from cinema to Instagram comedy. This is a symptom of the imbalance between business and creativity in Nollywood, a problem the industry doesn’t seem interested in solving. The excuse ranges from lack of sufficient financial backing to the difficulty in producing and profiting off films in Nigeria. Truly, funding is not readily accessible in Nollywood, and working with brands can ease the financial stress, but it should not be at the expense of the story or viewers.
The plot follows Raj, an Indian investment banker who falls in love with Didi, a privileged lawyer-turned-activist, after bumping into her during a run (the meet-cute is laughable so let’s forget it happened). An excited Didi shares the gist with her best friend, Angie, before going for a family breakfast. But her mood is soiled by her dad’s disapproval of her career choices (she works with an NGO) and revelation of his marital plans for her: he prefers one of the top lawyers at his firm as he believes his company will be in good hands if managed by both of them. After another poorly staged meeting with primary timing issues (a constant throughout the film) and an unmemorable dance sequence establishing their love, Namaste Wahala jumps three months into the future to show us that Raj and Didi have decided to get married. Of course, neither’s parents accept the union; Didi’s parents do not fancy an Indian, and Raj’s mum thinks he is too good for her.
Culture clash has its charms, especially in the romantic comedy genre, but it has been rehashed several times in Nollywood (The Wedding Party, Isoken, etc.) and is losing novelty. If Namaste Wahala intended on journeying down this well-traveled road, exploring both cultures in greater depth, with deeper context and analysis of the similarities, the differences, the nuance, would be a prerequisite to its success. Unfortunately, it failed at that hurdle. It is also hard to see any actual culture clash in the movie; what we have are clashes of personalities. Yes, the story follows an Indian man in love with a Nigerian woman, but the reason their parents do not okay their marriage isn’t cultural – it is personal. Didi’s dad prefers one of his staff; Raj’s mum is too attached to her son.
There is a scene where Lagos clashes with Mumbai, though. Raj’s mum enters into a cab, conducted by Broda Shaggi’s character. He has a caustic tongue and no patience for a foreigner, especially one as entitled as Raj’s mother. Their exchange is one of the few genuinely hilarious moments in the film, and that’s because there is a foreigner vs. local clash for the actors to work with. Namaste Wahala would be more fun if this happened more. Or if the writers invested more in Raj and Didi’s love story; we never see them in love, neither do we see them heartbroken, and that’s an area a romantic comedy should not fail in, ever.
The final dance sequence offers some consolation. It is a cheesy, fun musical sequence with a colorful display of culture. The song marries Afrobeat drums with elements of Indian Pop; the choreography and attire are a gorgeous mix of India and Nigeria. It is the wedding of the two cultures we have been waiting the whole movie to see, but the filmmakers have left the good a little too late.