Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2006, “Bombay Calling” is set within the claustrophobic world of a busy call centre in Mumbai, India

Shweta Kishore

Kishore is a writer, documentary filmmaker and Features Programmer for the Human Rights and Arts Film Festival, Australia.

The film is a meticulous portrait of the uneven relationship engendered between the employee and the employer in the new globalised workplace. Demonstrating the general through the specific, the directors use a single call centre and draw all the major characters from the employees and management, to create a powerful documentary with a distinct voice.

The documentary underlines the conflict resulting from the disparate rewards that globalisation delivers employees on the one hand and managers on the other. While the optimistic, young employees initially believe the glittering lights of the globalised world to be within their reach, the management have their own aspirations. In an initial sequence Kaz, the shadowy call centre owner, enthuses that Indian employees are preferable as they will stay an extra half an hour as opposed to employees overseas. This is an ongoing theme: manipulative managers creating competition amongst the employees at every level to extract the maximum possible commitment. Even the creation of insecurities about pronunciation and accent are legitimate in the pursuit of the elusive sale. Intricate sequences within the call centre, perhaps shot for the first time in such a candid manner, demonstrate the intense pressure that is put on the employees. Charles, a demure Catholic employee, seeks divine assistance from the pictures of Jesus and Mary on his desk to get him the all-important sale. The inclusion of details such as close-ups of posters, banners, pictures and artefacts on the walls and on individual desks create a subtle commentary that provides a further insight into this setting.

Addelman and Mallal hint at the dichotomy between the reality of living in Bombay and the sanitised environment of the call centres. Close-ups of bustling street life are intercut with long shots of sparkling skyscrapers to reveal the distance between the two realities. They also include segments from the family life of the characters to create a whole and tangible sense of the person behind the call-centre worker.

Bombay Calling highlights the personal impact of being a customer service worker in a globalised corporation. Employees comment on changes in lifestyle, increased consumption of alcohol and disintegrating relationships as they try to cope with the huge burden of making profits for their employers. The final sequence is perhaps the most compelling: as the call centre winds down and redundancies begin, the directors reveal the true winners and losers in the process of globalisation. While the employees lose their optimism, their faith and, to some extent, their belief in themselves, the owner takes a flight out to emerging markets to make even larger profits.

 

 


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