India: More than just call centres

May 28, 2012

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.

The film is a comedy about a group of British retirees, shunned or underestimated in their own country, rediscovering their desires and ambitions in India.

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.


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The old India is not just about holy men. Nor is the new India simply about outsourcing.

Well, shall we then say the land is all about a 27-storey, privately owned ‘billion dollar Antilla in Mumbai’? (Wait, haven’t the astrologers cleared the signal for the owner to move in to the world’s most expensive home yet?)

Posted by maGiK | Report as abusive

So this means that we detest the very idea which foriegn
directors potray about Indian existence as a third world
country. Well isnt it a western propoganda to project
something which is “backend” (Sales) work , as for them its “abusive” and requires
“night shifts” and only Indian people will do it as for brits, they are highly evolved.
I think the point here is the reach n who is target audience for movies like
these? Not Indians Ofcourse, I presume. May be its
Foriegn people who want to watch rather peep into other country’s culture,
sitting on their couch on a sunday evening, and create an opinion about that country.

Posted by mahatva | Report as abusive

Do not be concerned that Westerners or foreigners have a narrow view of multi-faceted India simply because there is a cliched film plot involving call centers. Westerners are well-educated, and I wonder if you could find anywhere those more likely to celebrate, champion, and congratulate you than “Western foreigners”. Far from having a narrow, cliched viewpoint of India ourselves, we have considerable resources which daily present India in all of her complex glory. There is a multitude of information, reportage, film, literature, programs to satisfy anyone who takes the trouble to investigate. I just finished reading 5 books on India…new, current portraits of contemporary India from respected reporters, etc. They were on the shelves of our local library, which means-they are everywhere available. Do not denigrate our powers of perception and understanding, rather, if you would accuse us, let it be for our ‘blind-spot’, that is our willingness to overlook many ugly things to appreciate the beautiful.

Posted by 2educated | Report as abusive

[…] and with just cause. We have all seen the scene in Slum Dog Millionaire; row upon row of seats in a call centre. It is a common site. India has been the off-shore pioneer for 10 years now and many of the top […]

Posted by Localised BPO / ITO « outsourcingexpertise | Report as abusive