Paul Bhattacharjee, Ayesha Dharker, Hasina Haque, Neet Mohan, Nikesh Patel
The modern phenomenon of using Indian call centres has been much maligned and has become an established butt of both stand up jokes and middle England rants.
Indian writer Anupama Chandradasekhars new play is set in a Chennai call centre for a fictional US credit card company, True Blue Capital and will appeal to anyone who has wondered about the person behind the scripted voice on the phone.
What really happens in those far away call centres? Who are these people who are always happy to help? Chennai based Chandrasekhars well researched piece gives us an insight into the world behind the headset and what happens after the ‘disconnect’, when we hang up.
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, the play is set in ‘Illinois’, or rather the room that is responsible for collecting the credit card debts of this US state at an unnamed company. “Where is Illinois?” “The Fourth Floor” we are told by Jyoti, an ambitious twenty something executive.
Coca-cola drinking Jyoti (played by Hasina Haque) represents the dynamic and young Indian economy, she has a hybrid Indian-American accent and spouts business jargon. Shes been sent to pull the greying Avinash, a forty something, exhausted and under performing employee, in line with the company core strategy.
Avinash (Paul Bhattacharjee) is not popular with his peers or subordinates, his targets are slipping (Blame America, Blame the Americans” he says) and as a result he is demoted from New York because he cant keep up. The company may lose the contract to a “stupid Filipino company”. The recession is irrelevant to Jyoti: Bad times are good times, Avinash. Thats the whole, like, point. She quips.
In ‘Illionis’ he oversees three bright Indian graduates who work in a windowless office on shifts: Roshan (Nikesh Patel), Giri (Neet Mohan) and Vidya (Ayesha Dharker) or as they are known to callers: Ross Adams, Gary Evans and Vicki Lewis of True Blue Capital.
The play is about the trio’s relationships, with each other and their callers, through whom we hear about recession hit American households with depressed and unemployed fathers on the brink of suicide and young women who are $20,000 in debt.
The tall office block, with a great view of a rubbish tip, is filled with many other identical offices, all containing workers working through the night with only half an hour break. The majority of the action takes place in this office on a set designed by award winning John Napier that is so simple it verges on bland. It features bare desks and headsets and is papered with the never-ending pile of credit card bills.
Roshan is a ‘super collector’ and has become so good at his job that he is Ross “Born and raised in Chicago, maam” both on and offline. His accent and manner is so polished he could pass for a real American as he flirts, sympathises and jokes his way into real Illinois homes, his approach proving particularly successful with miserable housewives. He is keen to distance himself from his Indian life, I apologise for an inconvenience caused by those Indian b-boys.
Despite his bravado he has a warm heart and cares about his ‘marks’, a failing which leads to a fall from grace, his own personal disconnect. Nikesh Patel shines in this role, amazingly his first professional performance. He embodies the confident and good looking American twenty-something he impersonates, just that little bit larger than life than everyone else on the stage, his voice and accent hypnotising.
Dharker and Mohan also put in solid performances as we watch the young workers nerves and relationships fray. Bhattacharjee is excellent as the disenfranchised supervisor who is disconnected from the new India he finds himself in.
Although the short piece doesnt really delve deep enough into the characters lives to be totally satisfying, the audience comes away with their eyes opened and perhaps a little cowed – promising themselves theyll be kinder to the next call centre worker they speak to and for a short time pondering the millions of behind the scenes jobs that go into our everyday lives.