Call Centers in India: John & Jane

John & Jane

India, 2005, In Hindi and English, 83 mins.

Director: Ashim Ahluwalia


How can a filmmaker deliver the essence of the estimated 400,000 Indian call center workers? Virtually synonymous with globalization and outsourcing, these workers have been portrayed in quite a few documentaries and feature films, so director Ashim Ahluwalia’s decision in “John & Jane” (2005) to blend fiction and fact is reasonably daring and for the most part successful. I would call this an experimental film (more precisely a mock documentary) that goes into the personalities and motivations of just six Indian call center workers, as it moves beyond what call center operators do and instead tries to discover who they are and why they do these jobs, because we soon learn it is not simply because of the pay.

Although we want to know more about these six very different people, the film offers us just enough to begin to speculate what has led them down this particular path. Osmond–I’m using their “American” names now–believes that America is full of billionaires so naturally the first step in becoming one is mastering American dialect, saving your money, and working your way up the ladder of success in his second job–Amway. Naomi is as blond and perky as any American teenager you might meet at a mall, but only in India does her blondness (never any doubt in my mind how that happened) and confidence in her “Western” attractiveness make her stand out.

Less enthusiastic about the path his life has taken, Nicolas, who had fallen in love and married a fellow call center worker, ends up spending twenty minutes a workday with his wife because she has switched jobs and shifts. “About America I knew nothing,” he confides, but nonetheless he doesn’t “want to be an Indian anymore.” He speaks American, not Hindi, he reminds us. Nikki, on the other hand, seems content with a singularly metropolitan situation, whether typical of Mumbai or not I cannot say for certainty: she has inherited a “guest house” from an aunt and rather than rent out the rooms she allows family and friends to stay, especially, the film seems to stress, a virtually invisible Donovan, another call center operator (not one of our primary six) whom she wakes up in the middle of his “night” to—not to put too fine a point on it—flirt with. The “call center is her family,” she tells us, speaking generically no doubt.

Usually the film moves seamlessly from what looks like documented reality to scripted and staged moments. Since there is no overarching narrative line, just an exploration of personality and situation, the film does not quite convince me that our characters will get what they want or expect. The grumpy ones–the first two guys, Glen and Sydney–clearly want more glamorous careers (modeling? dancing?) and seem like singularly unsuccessful operators. All the others seem to have discovered how to develop an American identity and keep their Indian life in the virtual megalopolis that knows no national boundaries, they work in an edge city of endless, architecturally uninteresting cubes with antiseptic interiors.


5 Responses to “Call Centers in India: John & Jane”

  1. amazing film!

  2. Nice and awesome call center.

  3. […] dit Ashim Ahluwalai, le réalisateur du documentaire sur les call center en Inde. ( John and Jane call center […]

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