10/3/10, Royal Court (Theatre Upstairs)
1 hr 20 mins straight through. A call centre in Chennai, where young Indians called Roshan, Vidya and Giri pretend to be Americans (called Ross, Vicky and Gary) hounding credit card debtors in Illinois to pay up.
The heat is on in the windowless office where a new supervisor (Paul Bhattacharjee, looking even more hangdog than usual) has been sent by a nervous young manager after being relieved of command in New York because his staff rebelled.
The contract is up for renewal, the pressure is on. But the new man is old school: a stickler for rules and regulations, a fashion victim in striped shirt and tie ("my grandfather used to wear that stuff," says one of the trendily T-shirted youngsters), a speaker of very precise but heavily Indian-accented English.
His staff dream of America, drink coffee, adopt American accents, hold American-themed parties (cowboys. Snow White in a ghastly white mask for Vidya-Vicky, who wishes she were paler-skinned). Their exposure to the downside of the American consumerist dream doesn't seem to have shattered their illusions.
Ross, the most Americanised of the three (Nikesh Patel, fresh out of the Guidlhall School, with flawless American accent), is supporting his brother who's about to depart for college in the promised land, Chicago. He falls for one of the marks, fiddles the books for her to write off a debt of $23,000, then discovers she's dropped him. His constant calls provoke a suit for harrassment. He's fired, goes off the rails, can't bear to leave, hides out in the building. The Bhattarchajee character and his boss (Hasina Haque beautiful but disappointing as a nervous young executive) are fired. Giri-Gary (Neet Mohan, fresh out of the Central School) gets a new job. Only Vidya-Vicky (Ayesha Dharker, quite well-known in India apparently) is left.
All the performances, with the exception of Hasina Haque (who like Neet Mohan was in England People Very Nice at the National), were spot on. The set was by John Napier (A knows him) who'd created a three-sided windowless box papered with credit card bills stamped "overdue", with a door in each wall, on one of which hung a whiteboard tallying up what each collector had raised that day. There were three desks for the workers and one behind for the boss, which moved around between scenes so we saw the set-up from different angles. The collectors had headsets and keyboards (though screens were dispensed with) and spent much of the time on the phone, their conversations with their marks cleverly interwoven as they faced straight out at the audience.
I was convinced by a picture if a mind-numbingly repetitive job in which nonetheless there is considerable scope for applied psychology, and of young Indians in a dependent, second-class relationship with the West. There is only one window on their floor which looks out on a giant rubbish dump, which they can't really see anyway because the time difference means it's always night when they're at work. The Bhattacharjee character laments the fact that he never sees his wife, who works during the day: "Sometimes we leave post-it notes on the bedpost".
Written by Anupama Chandrasekhar, who is based in Chennai. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, whose memorable Ramayana we saw years ago at the National.