Photo credit: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja

Film & TV

Hamisha Daryani Ahuja on Nollywood, Bollywood and her new Netflix Series, Postcards

Photo credit: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja

An interview with STATEMENT CEO and Founder, Areej Noor, and the director / producer of Netflix’s new series, Postcards, Hamisha Daryani Ahuja

By Areej Noor

May 2024

Hamisha Daryani Ahuja is a multi-talented film producer, director, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and actress who has significantly impacted the Nollywood and Bollywood industries. As the founder of Forever 7 Entertainment, she has garnered global recognition for her directorial debut, Namaste Wahala, which she also executive produced. The film premiered worldwide as a Netflix Original in February 2021, making history as the first Nollywood movie to chart globally, including markets such as the U.K., U.S.A, and India.


Hamisha’s influence extends beyond filmmaking, as she has been sought after by renowned organizations such as Coca-Cola, Entrepreneurs Network, and Miss Nigeria, solidifying her reputation as a charismatic motivational speaker. In addition to her achievements in the entertainment industry, Hamisha founded and managed the award-winning Bistro 7, a chain of restaurants in Lagos, for seven years before its acquisition in January 2019.


In an exclusive interview with STATEMENT’S CEO and Founder, Areej Noor, Hamisha discussed the influence of her cultural upbringing on her filmmaking journey, the seamless transition from restaurateur to filmmaker, and her aspirations to break barriers and foster collaborations across Bollywood, Nollywood, and Hollywood.


Can you tell us about your upbringing in Lagos and how it influenced your career path specifically in film? 


I was born in India, but I moved here when I was a baby. That’s why I say I’m an Indian living in Nigeria, I would say that’s my identity. And yeah, that was a big, big influence on the film industry because as I grew up, of course, I watched a lot of Bollywood content, but so did a lot of my friends. So Bollywood has been a huge influence in Nigeria.


I mean, as much as I was living in Nigeria in Lagos, I very much had an Indian upbringing, eating Indian food at home, watching Indian content. You know, it was just my way of life. 


So while I was in the beginning stages of my restaurant, I went to this place called Awesomeness Fest, created by Vichen Lakhiani. It was on my vision board when I came across him talking. He does a lot of these motivational speeches. He was one of those, you know, “think big” people. It was TEDx meets Burning Man. Lisa Nichols was there and she’s someone I’ve always watched because I really believe in the law of attraction.  I actually flew out and trained with her in LA after Awesome Fest because I was just so intrigued by the whole situation. And so that’s when I decided to start doing my own workshop. 


So I would have these small bespoke workshops in the restaurant where I’d invite people some, you know, companies would come in, they would attend, and it almost became like a sort of like forum, because when you got in there, I mean, the kind of people that were there, so we had like people from Google, we had the head of Coke, they’d all come in, and then they’d tell me to come into their companies and start training their teams. 


So this was something that I was just doing on the side, but it just got bigger on its own. 


Truly fascinating. How does your work as a restaurateur and entrepreneur inform your filmmaking?


Food has always been a very big part of my culture in my life, and I wanted to make sure everybody is fed well. So like, for example, as my ninth year in India, I want double the food that you normally have. 


Everyone needs their energy. You know, the small things are the big things. I learned that because those are the things that sometimes did get missed. Like one missing prop or one missing costume at one point held up [production] for like five hours. And so those kinds of things. So, the people that I hired, I brought that up, I’m like, listen, do you have a backup to that? Do you have this? Can you see? So we were a lot more organized, a lot more prepared, backed up a little bit in terms of what could go wrong.


Now one of the things I didn’t do in the restaurant, which I make sure I do now, in all my sets and you can speak to anybody, even the crew, the cast, you have to meditate for two minutes before we start, before we roll camera. And we do a gratitude circle. 


Namaste Wahala was your directorial debut. What were some of the challenges you faced during the production process and how did you overcome them? 


Literally my first day on set was my first day on set ever. I went in as a complete, complete figure. I had never experienced it, but I was very open. And I think that that helped.


I would feel like producing was very overlapping and aligned with the business models in Nigeria. So that wasn’t too much of a culture shock or a shock for me because I was able to apply what I’d learned doing business in the restaurant to doing business in the movie.


But we do have to deal with things like, for example, backup generators or like NEPA just going and then, NEPA just went and then the lights and what’s amazing is the crew here, the people here know how to handle that. 


In Namaste, Wahala, you portrayed a character in addition to your role as director, how did you balance these dual responsibilities, especially given this was your first film? 


So when I told you that as a kid I always wanted to get in the film industry, it was always to act. And so I did that for that little girl, like, you know, how can I not? 


When I was chatting with the writers in the workshop, I said, it needs to be a small role. 


It didn’t turn out to be. I did learn that I was in over my head, especially on the days that I was acting, because I was playing a lot of the directed producer roles. I’d be so frustrated because I couldn’t move, because we were sort of rolling or we had to do another take and they needed the lighting and all sorted. So I couldn’t then go and be like, hey, where’s the makeup people? Or where’s costume? Or are we ready for the next shot?


As a filmmaker, how do you navigate the complexities of cultural representation and avoid stereotypes while portraying diverse characters and narratives, especially in these two meccas of representation in the entertainment industry? 


It was important that Nollywood and Bollywood came together. You may be from a different country or a different industry, but we’re equal, you know? And I think that that was very important. By no means do I want any form of feeling like one industry or one country or one culture was superior. 


I feel sometimes Lagos gets disservice in the media as a kind of place. You know Africa is not just, you know, beggars in the streets. I live in Nigeria, it’s my home. We have beautiful restaurants, we have really nice locations. And it was important for everyone to see that.


So for example, even with the mothers-in-law, when I cast both the mothers-in-law, it was very important that both are very strong women, because that is a representation of Nigeria and India, you have very strong women. 


As a female director in a male dominated industry, what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how do you overcome them? 


I feel like I fought that battle in the restaurant. Again, I was there for seven years, dealt with it all though. So it feels like it’s part of my past life. What’s so cool about Nollywood is there are a lot of women leaders.


There are a lot of women at the top in this industry. And actually, that’s not the case in Bollywood. So when I was there, yes, I did find it very male. I mean, my crew were majority male. But it’s taking time because people who have more experience are men. And now women are actively getting in there.


When you talk to the biggest actresses in Hollywood who worked with every director like the top one percent of actresses they always say they know when they’re on a woman set you know there’s just a lot less bs and a lot more availability for what needs to happen as a team. 


Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of Nigerian cinema? If you want to also talk about your aspirations for your place in the Bollywood canon, how do you envision your role in the trajectories of these two industries?


I think the beauty is there’s just so much potential and I want to continue doing what I’m doing. I love it. I mixed Bollywood and Nollywood together. I want to keep doing that.


I mean there’s no reason why we can’t throw in a third culture, a fourth culture. For example, next week I’m going to Kenya to a location [for my] reality show. And that’s a third culture right there. I’m so excited. There’s so many Indians living there.


We just have so much overlap and I love playing with that. And, you know, sort of having fun with the differences as well as the similarities. Hollywood as well. I do think that we’re in big need for a nice collaboration there as well. 


I want to keep sort of breaking barriers in the sense that it’s important to go big or go home. 


So finally, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and public speakers based on your many experiences and successes in these industries? 


[My] advice to people who want to get into the industry or who want to just do anything that they’re scared of. If you’re scared, do it anyway. 


And if you’re not scared, I sometimes think it’s not worth it. And I realize that now when something is scaring me a little, it’s more exciting. 


And I think that with that fear, the biggest learning I had is to try and switch that fear to adrenaline, because when you’re fearful of something or you’re worried, you prepare more. You’re more excited. The stakes are higher. 


Even if it’s doing one thing every day that gets you closer to your goal, do it in the night, like in the middle of the night, like something, even if it’s reading an article, just something that gets you there. 


I hire superpower people now. I’m no more intimidated by, oh my God, if you’re smarter than me, that’s not cool. I want you to be smarter than me if I hire you now, at least in the part that you’re doing, right? 


So those are the things I learned. Again, it’s a journey, but definitely go for it.


Postcards, will be released on Netflix on May 3rd. It follows the compelling stories of four individuals whose life’s journeys are filled with a rollercoaster of emotions – from joy to frustration, from grief to triumph, from love to heartbreak, and everything in between.