#LLAInterview: “The way to handle failure is move on, keep going, don’t stop” – Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, Producer of critically acclaimed ‘Namaste Wahala’

Hamisha Daryani Ahuja is a Film Producer, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker, and Author. She founded Bistro 7, a chain of restaurants in Lagos in 2012. She ran the award-winning establishment for seven years. It was successfully acquired in January 2019 by Chocolate City Group. She is now a shareholder of the newly formed company and serves on their board. 

Hamisha started her coaching business in 2017. Her flagship course “The Pursuit of Happiness” has impacted thousands of lives till date. She has been trained by the world renowned Lisa Nichols – one of the world’s most requested motivational speaker and media personality whose works have touched over 30 million people worldwide. Hamisha later got trained and certified as a Law of Attraction and Life Coach. 

 Hamisha also founded the company Forever 7 Entertainment — a film making, production and content development company for Nollywood and Bollywood. . She is the Executive Producer and Director for her first feature film ‘Namaste Wahala’.   She considers herself to be a citizen of the world. While she has spent most of her life in Nigeria in an Indian household, she has attended Boarding school at the American Community School of Cobham in the U.K, has a commerce honors degree from McMaster University in Canada, a Post Graduate in Hospitality from Glion in Switzerland, and an acting certificate from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. These global experiences have given her a keen insight on the differing nuances of various cultures all over the world. Insight, which inspired her to create her first feature film: “Namaste Wahala” which brings forth the differences as well as the colorful similarities between Nigerian and Indian culture.

 

Who is Hamisha Daryani Ahuja?

Hamisha is  an Entrepreneur, Film Producer, Movie Director, Motivational Speaker, Actor, Corporate Workshop Facilitator, and Author. My childhood years were spent in Lagos, Nigeria where I attended St. Saviour’s School and the American International School of Lagos.

I then attended Boarding School in the U.K., got a Commerce Honors Degree at McMaster University in Canada, a Post Graduate in Hospitality in Switzerland, and an Acting Certificate from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Though I consider myself a global citizen, Lagos, Nigeria is my home.

 

You’re a Nigerian based entrepreneur and filmmaker , tell us, why film making? How did you delve into this field?

The power of film to transport one to the farthest realms of imagination has always been something I found magical.  Being a part of this magic has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child.

I founded Bistro 7 – a restaurant based in Victoria Island – in 2012. I ran the restaurant and its subsidiaries for seven years, until it was successfully acquired in January 2019 by Chocolate City Group. I am now a shareholder of the newly formed company and serve on the board. As I am no longer operationally active in the restaurant, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to develop my movie “Namaste Wahala.”

My anchor self development workshop is called ‘The Pursuit of Happiness” in which I train participants to live their best life. A key component of the workshop is to enable individuals to identify their big goals and go after them. I believe that in order to truly embody a message one needs to teach it.  I find that the greatest gift I get from teaching my workshops is having a happier, more positive and driven way of life for myself.

Last year I decided to go after my own big dream.

Using my business background and passion for film I plunged into this endeavour with the same zeal as I did seven years ago when I opened my first restaurant.

What has been the Highlight for you since you started making movies?

The path to true happiness is following one’s dreams and living out your “Ikigai”. Ikigai is a Japanese term that advocates doing something you love, that has an impact on the world and also serves a bigger purpose.  Something you enjoy doing and also something of value. Living a life that unites passion and mission along with your vocation.

Realizing that in film I am journeying towards my Ikigai has been my biggest highlight.

Your latest project/Movie “Namaste Wahala” highlights women empowerment, care to tell us about this movie, the theme it addresses and what you hope to achieve?

‘’Namaste Wahala’’ is a story of love, romance, and family set over two diverse and rich cultures. It brings Nollywood and Bollywood together with lots of music, dance, food, and most importantly drama!  There are also underlying subtle themes with some deeper messages within the storyline. 

Women empowerment is one of the themes and is something very close to my heart. I have always had strong viewpoints on women rights, roles women play, and equality. Since I was young it is a topic I never shied away from and continue to engage where I can.

Without giving away too much of the storyline; my message about women and how well rounded, balanced, talented, and multi tasking I believe our species are comes across loud and clear in the movie. The protagonist’s character is loosely based on the many intelligent, driven, and loving women I have met here in Nigeria. You will now need to watch the movie to find out more. ☺

What I hope to achieve is to have a mass impact on the entire world with the moral of the movie. Although it is a romantic comedy there are many interwoven messages that I hope the viewer can enjoy as well as emulate.

 

How do you stay innovative as a film maker and entrepreneur? And Your Plans in Five Years?

Staying innovative as an entrepreneur is something I have done since I entered the Business world. I always try and grow and expand both internally and externally with the business. Knowledge is power, as is experience. With the film industry I entered with practically no experience, however coming out of the process of making my first film, I believe I now have more knowledge than I could have acquired from any school. During our stay at home lockdown I did however, use the opportunity to do some online classes in order to perfect the experience. I do solidly believe the best way to learn is to do.

My plans in five years is to have a production house churning out quality, meaningful, and global content. I also plan to act in and direct movies and TV shows. I would like to make more content that touches on global matters, while also being entertaining. I would like to continue to make Nollywood movies, fused with other cultures and industries just like I have done with “Namaste Wahala.” Diversity is the motto I have grown up with ever since my formative years living in a boarding school surrounded by almost 80 different nationalities. We all lived together in one boarding house.  Sure there were some negatives but there were many more positives.  We were all different but in essence we were just the same.  I strongly believe that unity is the way forward and is a required for the world to be a better place.

‘’We are all one;’’ I hope that in the next five years I am able to create more content that brings the world together.  Expect lots of culture clash comedies, family feuds, rebelling lovers, unlikely friendships, and outrights wars.

Care to talk about Challenges on your journey as an entrepreneur and Lessons you’ve learnt?

The journey is paved with challenges, but it wouldn’t be much of a journey if there weren’t obstacles and ‘’valleys”’ along the way. In order to reach our peak we must swim through the valleys.

The younger version of me was a lot more headstrong and rebellious especially when I was running the restaurant. I felt I needed to have a very tough exterior in order to succeed in a business environment. Along with my insecurities of being young as well as a woman it just added to my headstrong demeanour. What I have learned from this is addressing problems and challenges with your innate nature and authenticity is in fact as effective if not more.

At times I find some people tend to underestimate women especially in leadership roles, while in the past this used to infuriate me. I now focus on the process and go about my business without dealing with this unnecessary ‘’Wahala”.  I now enjoy the element of surprise in those same people when I reach my results.

A smile, a gentle demeanour and a kind word coupled with confidence, and persistence can take you as far as you need to go. A leader can take many forms, aggression is not always the answer.

Work hard, stay positive, do some good, walk your own path and keep persisting. You will definitely see the fruits of your labour.

 You are an Indian who has always lived in Nigeria, how this in any way influenced your approach to life and entrepreneurship?

I have loved growing up with both these beautiful, rich, and vibrant cultures. Nigeria and India have such strong roots, family values, and traditions. In life I feel I am blessed because I get to enjoy both cultures with all the bright colours, stories, personalities, entertainment and of course FOOD, that comes with it.  It is what motivated me to make my movie which is literally a fusion of these two cultures. Almost like a new nationality with the values of both joined into one. That is what I am. I don’t know where one starts, and one ends.

Having these two cultures as my own has given me strength, confidence, and a sense of open-mindedness.

Also I can negotiate oh! Nigerians can negotiate, so can Indians, but what do you do when you cross an Indian from Nigeria? ☺

Do you have mentors? Who are they and how important is mentorship to you?

I have role models I look up to:

Ellen DeGeneres – a bold, beautiful, kind, loving, brave woman. A woman so talented, so smart, so successful, yet so kind and down to earth. I would love to be half the woman she is when I am her age.

Michelle Obama – for her dignity, intelligence, warmth, and impact.

Shonda Rhimes – for the stories she tells, so entertaining yet always meaningful.

Priyanka Chopra – for her confidence, open-mindedness, global success, and respect for her roots.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – for the stories she writes. For how she manages to pick up on human emotion and depict real life and characters while also being entertaining.

Tips on how you handle when the going gets tough?

I am going to mention just one tip here that is the starting point of all my workshops. It is the hardest thing to do especially when things are at a low point but in my experience the most affective. Give Gratitude. Start a gratitude journal. Write ten things you are grateful for everyday. Don’t stop. Even when things get better, which they most certainly will, keep the gratitude going. ‘’What you appreciate appreciates”

Have you at any point failed at something? How did you handle it?

When I was running Bistro 7, I so badly wanted to expand into the biggest and best mall in Lagos at that time. It was a difficult endeavour and took me 2 years to achieve. However, upon opening the outlet, I had to shut it down within a year. At the point I perceived this as a failure. Today I look back and see it as not only an amazing learning experience, but also a great opportunity. I got one of my biggest corporate workshop clients through that experience. I also learnt so much from the process.

The way to handle it is move on, keep going, don’t stop. Short term yes, it is normal to feel low and question it all. However, there is always a silver lining.  It is up to us to find it.

Final words to entrepreneurs who want to go into this industry and women in our community? 

Whatever you want to do, just do it!

Don’t worry about the ‘how’ just worry about the next step.

One of my favourite learning’s from the movie ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrnes is:

Do not worry about the process. Just dream about your big goal, visualize how it feels to already have achieved it, and then take a step no matter how small towards that goal. Keep taking it one step at a time; you will get there, with your end result always in your mind.

This is how I proceed with all my work/life goals and it really has proven to be a successful method.

“The most important journey of our lives doesn’t necessarily involve climbing the highest peak or trekking around the world. The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams” – Oprah Winfrey.

 

The Leading Ladies Africa weekly interview series focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her. 

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