CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 20 . . . .May 25, 2007
Bombay Calling: Life on the Other Side of the Line.
Ben Addelman & Samir Mallal (Writers & Directors). Adam Symansky (Producer). Sally Bochner (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
70 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153E 9906 225.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
Several times a week, my evening routine is interrupted by a phone call. The pattern is the same. I have to say hello at least twice as the first hello is greeted with silence. Then a click and a voice asks for a version of my name. Oh, no, it's another telemarketer! Who are these people?
Bombay Calling features a call centre in Bombay (Mumbai) and the lives of several of the people who make their living calling houses all over the world to sell a variety of products.
The owner of the call centre speaks with pride about his operation and says that his workers are far superior to anyone in a similar centre in England. There, he says, the workers just want to go home; here, they live for the calls and celebrate the successes.
Early in the film, the callers clearly love what they are doing. Each sale is greeted by general applause, and their successes make everyone happy. The film follows the workers' lives closely. The two women featured state openly that this job has provided them with freedoms unimagined in their home towns. While "Sweetie" initially found the city congested and hot, she now has no regrets of making the move. Wendy states that, if she was still living at home, she would be expected to be in the house by 7 p.m. No such rules apply to her in the city.
Call centres employ thousands of educated Indians. The average monthly salary in Bombay is 2,200 rupees ($50 U.S.). Those working at the call centres can start at 10,000 rupees ($225 U.S.). So it is no wonder why such jobs would be seen as attractive. As a result, 1000 people a day come to Mumbai to seek work in the growing number of call centres that are being established there. A good caller could contact 300 people per day. Americans are known to slam the phone down on callers, but the British are very polite. The callers are given accent classes and face a rigorous training session before they qualify to work the phones. Inter-team competition keeps the sales and spirits up, and, for the most part, everyone seems happy. Even Sweetie's parents are beaming with pride over what she has been able to achieve. She fully expected to have to work abroad to make any substantial amount of money. With the call centre, she is successful and did not have to leave India to become so.
This should be a good news story all around. The workers are seen as a tight group who work together and party together afterwards. In the party scene, the film switches its focus and gives a view of the new Mumbai. Western influences abound: Heinz ketchup billboards, American restaurant chains and popular stores. A growing affluence energizes a new active lifestyle which is very attractive to the young and financially stable. A Bollywood dance number punctuates the high energy of the party scene. This is a time of great contrast. In such a vibrant city, the film states that people die from starvation every day. One of the call centre workers suggests that the only way to not be affected by this is to harden yourself.
The drive for success has a toll on the workers as well. One man shows a photo of his son and admits that he missed a major family religious event because he was at work. He also missed his wedding anniversary for the same reason. However, he states that he loves to have material goods, and his working so much can only help his family. For others, the job defines who they are.
There is a snake in every paradise however. Success brings in more attempts at success. The call centre business is so hot that many other centres are opening shop. The scenes of jubilant sales turn to scenes of frustration as the sales are not happening like before. Competition in the industry has resulted in the same people being called by a number of different call centres. Even the most polite customer tires of being called several times. Those callers who were once able to use their charm to make sales find that this no longer works. At a staff meeting, the group that used to party together is told that past performance is meaningless. Anyone who does not make a sale in three days will be fired. Some of the featured callers go on to other call centre work. Sweetie is promoted within the company, but all the others are scattered. The caller who boasted about his ability to charm women over the phone admits that he not only lost his job, but he lost his religion (which he saw manifested in his success), got in with a bad crowd, and his life has not unfolded as he had hoped. The one who missed the family events mentions divorce.
Bombay Calling is a depressing look at one of the aspects of globalization. The callers started working the British market but moved on to Canada, the U.S. and Australia. The owner of the company has call centres in other countries as well and does not have to maintain a company anywhere which is not making a substantial profit. Each of the callers is brought into a world of affluence and then get pushed off just as they are getting used to that level of lifestyle.
Although the message of the film is very good, it is rather long. Parts of the film could be used in Business or Economics classes or any class dealing with Globalization or Ethics. Overall, beyond professional viewing for gleaning information, this would not work in a classroom.
Recommended with reservations.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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