A Piece of Advice
The Must-See Films That Celebrate Love Across Borders
Photo: Courtesy of Hamisha Daryani-Ahuja
Recently Indo-Nigerian romance ‘Namaste Wahala’ melted hearts across the world. We catch up with director Hamisha Daryani Ahuja to talk about her inspirations and some of her favourite cross-border romances.
Love is love. No matter where we come from, we bring our backgrounds and histories into our relationships.
But what happens when there is no shared ethnic background to dig into? If correct communication in relationships wasn’t hard enough, it gets even more complex when navigating interracial relationships in a society that can be racist.
That’s perhaps why interracial romances lend themselves beautifully to movies – they cut through the layers of culture to reveal what’s universal, particularly the ultimate triumph of love.
Indian-Nigerian entrepreneur Hamisha Daryani-Ahuja put her restaurant business on the backburner to work on Namaste Wahala, her directorial debut. The film about an Indian investment banker who falls in love with a Nigerian lawyer, fighting cultural differences and unhappy parents to get to their happily-ever-after, came out on Netflix in December 2020.
The film’s inspiration came naturally to Daryani Ahuja. “I’ve grown up in Nigeria, and Bollywood is everywhere,” she told VICE.
“There is always a lot of song and dance in the streets inspired by Bollywood. People here even watch various shows on [Indian entertainment channel] Zee, dubbed in English. And the Blindian community – people with Black and Indian ancestry – are influential in their own right.”
With Namaste Wahala, Daryani Ahuja’s idea was to highlight not the differences but the similarities between Indian and Nigerian cultures, and there are quite a few of them.
“For instance, we merged the Indian sari with the Ankara cloth popular in Nigeria. We also made a fusion of the Indian biryani and the Nigerian jollof rice,” she said. “Even common themes such as respecting elders were highlighted. People asked me, ‘Why are your characters obeying their parents?’ But that’s just Indian and Nigerian culture, both.”
Interracial and intercultural romances have been a challenging subgenre in film from the way audiences can interpert it to mean a wide range of things, to filmmakers risking stepping on culturally sensitive minefields while telling such stories. Some of them, however, have also proven to be quite unforgettable.
We got Daryani Ahuja to draw up a list of watches that make for beautiful stories worth capturing and celebrating.
Here are four movies/shows that stand out, according to Daryani Ahuja:
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
The romantic comedy written by Nia Vardalos and directed by Joel Zwick was a sleeper hit and is still one of the highest-grossing romantic comedies of all time. It tells the story of a middle-class Greek-American woman who falls in love with an upper-middle-class white man. The problem? Her big, tight-knit family wouldn’t have ever dreamed of having a son-in-law who wasn’t Greek. Over the years, the film has garnered cult status for its good-hearted, lovable, and delightfully eccentric portrayal of love and its many complexities.
Mississippi Masala (1991)
Daryani-Ahuja hails veteran Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair’s work as “the first and one of the most iconic films made on interracial love.” Starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury, the movie was a soulful exploration of love between an Indian woman and a Black man, set against the racially charged backdrop of the American South.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Based on the 2014 YA novel by Jenny Han, the Netflix film consciously played by the rules of a teen drama and yet managed to do justice to a story that was at once relatable and quirky. In it, a Korean-American high school girl writes secret love letters to her crushes, which inadvertently get sent to their subjects. Han was inspired to write the book based on her own history of writing love letters to boys she had crushes on as a teenager.
Never Have I Ever (2020-present)
The Netflix series created by American actor, comedian, screenwriter, and multiple Primetime Emmy nominee, Mindy Kaling, was no less than a cultural reset when the first season released in April 2020. It changed the way Indian characters were represented – or caricatured – in Hollywood, and the charming, nearly all-Indian cast added a refreshing authenticity to it all. The show revolves around Devi, played by Canadian-Sri Lankan actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who’s caught between cultures and the many crests-and-troughs of trying to fit into high school society, especially when crushing on white boys. Endearing and laugh-out-loud funny moments have made Devi relatable to people of colour everywhere, spawning a second season that was recently released to widespread acclaim.
These films provide a peek into what a world without borders could look like – one where life might get in the way but where love always finds its way. The triumph of boundary-breaking love, after all, is worth celebrating – no matter where on this planet you might live.
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