Monday, March 5, 2012

Movie – Outsourced (2006)

First things first: this post is about the 2006 movie named Outsourced, not the 2010/2011 NBC TV show.  While the latter was a spin-off from the film, it suffered the fate of most other movie-based TV shows and it only lasted one season.  I did not see it, but I have read that the humor on the TV show was much broader than in the movie.  It sounds like they dumbed it down for television audiences.  Outsourced-the-movie features some charming comedy.  Much of it is the fish out of water kind, but there is some romantic comedy, too.  The movie is about learning about other cultures.  If you ever saw the 1983 movie Local Hero then Outsourced could be considered the next generation version of that.

Todd Anderson (The House of Yes’ Josh Hamilton) is a man in charge of a call center in Seattle.  He finds out that his company is outsourcing the entire operation to India.  If he wants to get his big severance package he’s going to have to go to India and get the call center running there.  If he can accomplish a certain level of efficiency in a set amount of time then he will get his big payday.  Todd’s not thrilled with the situation, but money talks, so he goes to India.

He is met at the train station by Purohit (Asif Basra), the man who will be managing the call center.  In other words, he is Todd’s replacement.  Purohit immediately directs Todd away from the hotel that the company set him up at and instead takes him to his Auntie Ji’s house to stay.  Todd has an uncomfortable first meeting here and almost immediately breaks a local taboo.  He hasn’t made any effort to learn about the country where he is going to be spending the next few months.

I should pause here to say that some of the comedy in the film comes from the fact that Todd’s company is so cheap that they didn’t even establish the new center in one of the gleaming, high-tech cities that India has.  Instead they put it way out in the country.  Todd’s been sent to the Indian equivalent of the middle of nowhere, which leads to some “hick jokes” being sprinkled in.  Some of the guys from India that I worked with were concerned that I would think this movie was representative of real tech centers in their home country.  I assured them that it was obvious to me that the film was exaggerating the back country aspect for comedic effect, just like American films will sometimes put in “redneck humor”.

Todd is having trouble adjusting to the heat and when he is first there he stops and buys some flavored, shaved ice from a street vendor to try to cool down.  Big mistake.  He ends up with a bad case of Delhi Belly that causes him distress.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, it’s the Indian equivalent of Mexico’s Montezuma’s Revenge.  This makes Todd suspicious of just about everything he might eat, including Auntie Ji’s food.  He looks over the wall from the garden on her property and sees poor folks right outside.  He sets his tray of food on the wall of the garden so that these people can eat it.  This is the first sign that he is starting to get over his bad attitude and starting to empathize a little with the people around him.

One sequence in the film that is quite funny relies on the viewer knowing about the Indian holiday of Holi.  I’ll explain.  One of the traditions of Holi is that celebrants throw colored powder or paint around, especially at each other.  Todd leaves Auntie Ji’s house, not seeing the sign she posted that he should stay inside because it is Holi.  He is wearing a nice white shirt, of course.  The film follows him walking to work along deserted streets.  The movie keeps showing us camera shots of him from rooftops, around corners, behind doors, etc.  We are seeing the “predators” stalking the unsuspecting “prey”.  The humor comes from the anticipation of what’s going to happen to him, which is why I’ve explained this aspect of Holi.

While Todd has been training people and getting the call center to improve, he finds that the most talented worker in the office is Asha (Ayesha Darker).  Todd compliments her and talks with Purohit about moving her into some management responsibilities.  Asha responds quite well to this.  It is new to her to not be considered a little less of a worker because she is female.  Todd encourages her and builds up her self-esteem.  Gradually she comes to believe in herself.  This sparks some feelings for Todd in Asha.

She is engaged to be married in a month’s time, but it is an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t know or love.  Her feelings for Todd are real, but will he feel the same way?  Even if he does, would she dare defy her parents not just on the arranged marriage, but in starting a relationship with an American, too?  I will say that I found this relationship between Todd and Asha to be more realistic than your basic romantic comedy. 

I want to mention one of the funnier scenes between them involves him being curious about a temple and asking Asha to explain it to him.  It turns out to be celebrating the sexual side of the god Shiva and there is some humor from this nice Indian girl haltingly trying to explain it to this American man.

I said at the top that the movie is about understanding other cultures.  It’s not just Todd coming to learn about India.  He is also trying to teach them about American culture so that they are more effective over the phone with their American customers.  What is the epitome of American culture?  Why, movies of course.  He has them do lines from various American films.  When they are done, though, the people there surprise Todd by having him try to mimic a dance from a Bollywood film.  Fair is fair after all.

While this movie was not produced by Indians, it is shot in India and features an almost all-Indian cast.  If you listen to some of the extras on the DVD the producers talk about their own experiences in India, some of which made it into the film. 

If you are looking for some decent laughs, and you like fish out of water stories, then I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Now this is one movie which I love a lot...Its a perfect intersection of two cultures...
    And I am happy you said this lines "Todd’s company is so cheap that they didn’t even establish the new center in one of the gleaming, high-tech cities that India has."

  2. @Vinay - I worked with people from Infosys and they had nice new buildings in Bangalore and Mangalore and they would sometimes show me pictures of them. They were a far cry from the concrete storage building used in Outsourced.

  3. Don't be surprised if the fancy new buildings where InfoSys is located do not have toilet paper. Some things from the film are applicable in Indian cities too.