India: More than just call centres
India is the land of colours, sound, and call centres — or at least, that is what Western popular culture has been trying to reinforce over the past few years. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“, starring Judi Dench, is Hollywood’s most recent expedition to India, and it sticks to the formula.
They are lured to Jaipur, the city of palaces, with an online advertisement of a hotel that promises a life of leisure to the elderly — only to find themselves in a building on its last legs, run by an incompetent, hyperactive Sonny, played by Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire“. Patel’s love interest is a modern young girl who works at a call centre.
Made on a modest budget, the film is a commercial success and is inching towards the $100 million mark in ticket sales — a remarkable run for a movie that has senior citizens as its main cast.
Like other Hollywood films such as “Outsourced” and “Slumdog Millionaire“, this one ascribes mainly two roles to the local population — the poor, downtrodden Indian and the English-speaking, call-centre agent — and therein lies a problem.
While it is true that India is an outsourcing hub, it is not as if every college graduate aspires to make sales over the telephone. Only about 350,000 Indians are employed as call centre agents — a minuscule percentage in a country with nearly 1.2 billion people. We have many more doctors, lawyers or school teachers, to name a few professions.
Neither is becoming a call centre agent the most desired or prestigious career choice because it could mean a lifetime of night shifts and having to deal with abusive customers.
It may not always be evident in Hollywood movies, but the old India is not just about holy men nor is the new India simply about outsourcing — and it would be nice to see a movie that tries, just tries, to get it right.