Netflix

Namaste Wahala: the representation we’ve been waiting for, and that we need to unpack 

By:
Monika Sidhu (@MonikaSidhuu)

When Netflix Naija announced the upcoming release of the new rom-com Namaste Wahala at the end of last month, it felt as if everyone on my Twitter TL was talking about it -- and rightfully so. 

The film follows a modern-day love story that takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, between Indian investment banker Raj (Ruslaan Mumtaz) and Nigerian lawyer Didi (Ini Dima Okajie). The story ultimately brings together the cinematic universes of Bollywood and Nollywood, as one of the first films of its kind. 

Without spoiling too much, the film is based on the most dramatic kind of love story, which is that of forbidden love. 

In the film, Raj and Didi meet in the first scene, bumping into each other on a beach while each of them jogs. There is no mistake that it’s love at first sight. 

But as we soon come to realize, Raj is expected by his parents to marry an Indian woman, and respectively, Didi is expected to marry a Nigerian man. Their love is simply not one that is appropriate or acceptable in each of their worlds.

The film, which is directed by Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, has an extensive storyline that follows Didi and Raj’s struggle while also following Didi’s challenges in establishing herself as a lawyer and proving herself in her career and to her father. 

The film is exactly what you would hope for a Nollywood-Bollywood collab: the exaggerated music to punctuate tense moments, the zoom-in shots of over-the-top facial expressions, and of course, the exceedingly dramatic storyline. 

If you’re not used to these tropes of international cinema, it may take you a moment to adjust into your viewing experience, but I assure you that the theatrics are what makes it so fun to watch. 

While the coming together of Nigerian and Indian cultures can be funny, cute and quirky, a film like this is much more than that, and feels incredibly necessary.

This becomes apparent when we consider that my Twitter timeline wasn’t just freaking out that the film  combined two popular film industries; the TL was freaking out because we were seeing a type of representation that has been seriously lacking: that of Black and South Asian love. 

Realistically speaking, in film and television, it’s rare to see any representation of interracial relationships that don’t include one of the partners being white. 

It’s exactly why it can feel so exhilarating to see interracial relationships including two non-white partners from different races. 

Some noteworthy recent examples of this can be found in Ramy (Ramy’s relationship with Zainab), Insecure (Molly and Andrew aka Asian Bae), and Kim’s Convenience (Raj and Janet). 

Interracial love involving non-white parties has always been a tricky topic to approach even in the more “progressive” Western media, because realistically most of us have been conditioned to marry within our own culture. The influence comes from family and the greater community. 

Speaking from a South Asian lens, I've always been aware of the restrictions around interracial relationships. However, the restrictions of being South Asian and dating someone from the Black community specifically have always been framed more negatively than others, rooted in a pervasive sense of anti-Blackness.

This particular lack of representation in media and even in the lives of many South Asian and Black communities, is one of the reasons multidisciplinary creative and writer Jonah Batambuze launched the Blindian Project, a meeting place for those in the Black and South Asian communities.

Based out of the U.K., the project started off in 2017 as a written series in which Batambuze put a call out for those who have experience in interracial relationships involving Black and South Asian partners. 

“I got ten stories from around the world, packaged them up and kind of just put it out there, and it resonated with people, people interacted with it,” says Batambuze.

It was the kind of representation he could also resonate with based on his own lived experience. Batambuze, who is Ugandan-American, married his wife Swetha who is Indian nearly 20 years ago, and the couple now has two children. Being “Blindian'' is engrained completely into his life. 

While it was a project that he created in 2017, Batambuze decided to return to working on the Blindian Project full time at the beginning of 2020.

“I felt like the Blindian project was the thing that allowed me to give the most to the world and also feel value for that, and then just everything happened from there,” he adds.

“Coronavirus happened, George Floyd was murdered, Kamala Harris was put into the White House and it all just contributed to the growth of the community, really.”

Since then, the project has worked towards creating workshops and having larger conversations around the topics of Black and South Asian partnerships. 

Like Batambuze mentions, this year proved to be a time to reflect on the relationship between Black and South Asian communities. Upon the death of George Floyd, many communities rightfully decided to look within and confront their own biases and anti-Black racism. 

Social media groups such as SouthAsiansForBlackLives were one of the pages encouraging these conversations of confronting anti-Black racism. 

So it made complete sense when they collaborated with Batambuze and the Blindian Project to host a workshop titled “Navigating Anti-Blackness in South Asian Relationships.”

The workshop aimed to focus on race-based violence, trauma, South Asian Stigmas, anti-Black cultural norms as well as fetishization. 

“We had 80 people from around the world. I found that really interesting, anti-Blackness was in the title. It’s not sexy by any means, [but] you’re attending the event because you want to actively question yourself so I thought that was beautiful,” says Batambuze. 

While this workshop occurred on the 13th, they made sure to also host a virtual viewing party for the release of Namaste Wahala the very next day. 

This is a film that Batambuze says shows how excited people are about seeing the Blindian representation. 

“I think it was amazing to see how the world and how these different communities embraced and were actually excited about seeing it, you know?” he says

“I think it proves that people are interested in these stories and you know they were really receptive to them. And I think it was beautiful how [the director] put it together in terms of the cultures.”

And like Batambuze says, it certainly cannot be disputed that the film was greeted by many on social media with open arms. 

But we can hope that along with this beautiful depiction of interracial love, is also a more critical engagement of how we interact with real-life interracial couples, and how we need to keep that same energy IRL.

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About the author: Monika Sidhu is a freelance multimedia journalist based out of Brampton,ON. She loves covering all things arts and culture and enjoys telling untold stories coming out of her community. Monika recently graduated from Western University receiving a Master’s of Media in Journalism and Communication. In her off-time, you can find her discovering new music, spending time with her dogs or hiding the fact that she is binging reality tv shows.

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