Nights @ Indian Call Centers

Curator's Note

One Night @ the Call Center opens on a late-night train from Kanpur to Delhi, as author Chetan Bhagat realizes he is sitting across from a mysterious, beautiful woman. Interested, he begins a conversation; she recognizes him as the famous author. The woman suggests: “I might have a story for you,” she says, but it comes with a condition: if she tells him the story, he must write it. They agree, and the story begins: a story of call center workers in Gurgaon, Haryana (a southern suburb of Delhi), who spend their nights awake helping impossibly challenged Americans through their technological crises – ranging from microwaves and ovens to computers – and, accidentally, providing an occasional free phone sex line. The story concerns narrator Shyam (“Sam” to his American callers), shift manager at Connexions, and his five co-workers, their America-loving boss, and the one fateful night at their call center, when they receive a phone call…from God.

Originally published in English (its largest readership in India), it was quickly translated into Hindi and Gujarati. Bhagat is the biggest selling English-language writer in India, and the book remained on the Times of India bestseller list from December 2005 to January 2008. In 2008, Bhagat adapted the book to film, releasing Hello in October 2008 to outstanding box office success.

The book and the movie inspire a new type of "media effects" study, with the telephone as its medium of focus. These popular texts hold a particular idea of the American (or white foreigner) with whom the Indian is forced  to communicate across distances linked by satellites, wires, and the globally fuzzy conception of “outsourcing.” Indeed, identity is even managed across phone lines. Over the course of a phone conversation, each participant has imagined the person on the other end - and, in doing so, has also reflected on herself. What potential can these dialogic moments hold for a critical reflection on the practices of identification? Narratives like those featured in Hello and One Night @ the Call Center suggest a way of viewing the other without ever having viewed him. What affective - or even potentially political - relationships are possible when the other you’re "viewing" is otherwise unseeable?

Comments

Kimberly Alecia Singletary's picture

Assumptions, Assumptions

Daniel - This post brings to mind issues of assumptions - from both Indians and Americans.  On the one hand, we have an Indian movie that takes the particular stressors of working at a call center - disgruntled consumers irritated at having to call a company for help and sometimes combative, insulting customers who resent being connected to a call center overseas (and are annoyed at having to call the company).  On the other hand, we have assumptions being made about "the particular idea of the American (or white foreigner)." 

This movie did very well at the box office in India. Was it released at all in the States? I wonder how American audiences would have registered the complaints/jokes/criticisms made about them by the people (Indian call center operators) who often are unfairly subjected to derisive comments in the States? 

Also, is white foreigner/American used interchangeably in this film textually and/or visually?  If so, that speaks to the film’s own stereotypical assumptions about who can be/is American (ie no "raced" minorities).  If Americans of Color are represented, given your description of how white/American is used in the film, it would be an interesting project to see how those Other Americans are represented aurally/textually/visually.

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