February 17, 2021
In the decade before Nigeria’s independence from the British in 1960, Lebanese and Syrian traders took a bet on importing Bollywood movies into the country. Bollywood films had cheaper import licenses than their Hollywood counterparts, and by the early 1960s, Nigerian moviegoers were just as likely to see a poster of Shammi Kapoor in Junglee as they were of James Stewart in Vertigo at their local theaters.
Bollywood films resonated most strongly in Nigeria’s more conservative, traditional north. Many of the region’s primarily Muslim citizens found an affinity for the Indian storylines, which they felt better aligned with local norms and values. Even now, half a century after the first Bollywood film imports into the country, it’s not uncommon to see regular invitations to Bollywood parties at clubs and restaurants in major northern Nigerian cities like Abuja and Kano, where women in saris dance and sing karaoke to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s “Dholi Taro Dhol Baaje.”
While COVID-19 has put a stop to the in-person events, it hasn’t slowed the country’s love affair with Bollywood, which has long predates TikTok trends and YouTube videos. You can still see plenty of Nigerians on social media lip-syncing to and singing popular Bollywood songs, or acting out scenes from Bollywood films, complete with dialogues. Bollywood has also influenced Nigeria’s homegrown film industries of Nollywood and Kannywood. And now, crossover films are becoming more commonplace — a natural next step for industries that have run in parallel for decades.