I don't like telemarketers. I don't like them calling me during dinner, or while I'm watching a movie...or even when I've got nothing better to do. Sales pitches regurgitated from cue cards turn me right off, so I often politely decline the offer (usually, it takes several attempts) and hang up promptly. It's an impersonal and cold way to do business, and it's one of several reasons that I opted for a cell phone instead of a landline. However, I realize that the person on the other end is a living, breathing human being; they've got to put food on the table, even if I don't appreciate what they're doing in the least.
It's a good thing that Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal's Bombay Calling (2005) shows us the people behind the pitches; otherwise, I'd probably have turned it off as fast as I hang the phone up. There's a bit of a twist to this documentary, though: these telemarketers work outsourced jobs at a busy call center in Bombay, India...and interestingly enough, their career paths perfectly represent the rapidly changing culture through globalization. The enthusiastic young salespeople work odd hours but the pay is worth it, creating a "dream job" for many: they're able to support their families, but they still get to live close to home. It's an unorthodox way to make ends meet...but it makes perfect sense from their perspective, doesn't it?
The ringmaster is Kaz Lalani, a globetrotting businessman who molds the young hopefuls into sculpted sales reps. He's the owner of DMM, a small British company that's outsourced a number of jobs to Bombay, and he eagerly recruits those looking to earn their keep. Some of the employed methods include culture lessons (viewing fine foreign cinema, such as Crocodile Dundee II) and coaching to make their voices sound "less ethnic". The sales floor resembles a typical office setting, adorned with British and Indian flags, cubicles and motivational posters. High fives are shared when a sale is made, while flustered sighs are heard when potential customers hang up.
The real meat to Bombay Calling, ironically, is when we leave the workplace and see the young folks in more natural habitats: at home, touring the city or just grabbing a bite to eat. Several young employees share a bit about their goals, their reasons for taking the jobs and whatever else is on their minds. One young man dreams of the day when the Indian rupee is most recognized world currency, instead of the American dollar. It's here where the film finds a confident center...especially when we see beautiful footage of the crowded city, often times under the cover of night. Luckily, what begins as a somewhat detached look at a changing culture develops into an empathetic character study.
Of course, dreams can only last so long: the telemarketing venture doesn't last long, but our hopeful heroes seem determined to find success in the field or elsewhere. This final leg of the journey almost acts as a "Where are they now?" segment, so at least we're not left hanging at the end.
Polished and confident, the Canadian-produced Bombay Calling arrives on DVD courtesy of Mongrel Media and the National Film Board. The brisk 70-minute main feature is paired with an excellent technical presentation and a few appropriate extras, rounding out the package quite nicely. It may not be the most compelling documentary of recent memory, but there's no doubt that Bombay Calling is a passionate film crafted with skill and care. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, Bombay Calling looks extremely polished from start to finish. The terrific Indian landscape footage comes alive in great detail and color, even holding steady during nighttime scenes (though a few clips are a bit on the grainy side). Overall, it's a perfectly good presentation that shouldn't disappoint in the least.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo and also gets the job done; though the dialogue-driven film doesn't always create an active soundstage, the music and bustling city atmosphere often make use of the surround channels. Optional French subtitles and English Closed Captions are included during the main feature, though portions of less distinguishable dialogue include burned-in English subtitles.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The 1.78:1 menu designs (seen above) are simple and easy to navigate, but the animated transitions are a bit on the slow side. The 70-minute main feature has been divided into a dozen chapters, while no apparent layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts.
The main companion to Bombay Calling is a feature-length Audio Commentary with directors Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal. The two creators share several interesting anecdotes along the way, though a moderator could've been used to prompt them during the frequent lapses into silence. Still, their humble demeanors and obvious love for the film make this a track worth listening to. Also included is the short film "Heavy Metal India" (6:47), a brief look at Indian teenagers professing their love for the musical genre. It's mostly culled from street interviews, but there's also some local concert footage thrown in just for fun. Closing things out is a pair of nearly identical Biographies for the two directors.
It wasn't quite what I expected, but Bombay Calling is an interesting film that gives outsiders a clear view of India's drastically changing culture. You may not like the young professionals' choice of careers, but it's easy to see why they've chosen to pursue them: to support their families, become successful and be able to stay in their home country. The DVD package by Mongrel Media pairs the main feature with an excellent technical presentation and a few interesting extras, rounding out the package nicely. Overall, there's enough here to make Bombay Calling worth hunting down. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.