John & Jane opens with the lights and action of Times Square in New York City. The bright signs advertising international products symbolize the American love of money, marketing and capitalism-the principles at the core of this film on outsourcing -while halfway across the world, Indian call centres do a brisk business.
It is a world often wondered about but rarely seen. Vast, fluorescent-lit rooms are filled with cubicles separated by the regions from where calls originate (California, New York, Kentucky). The employees work midnight shifts to match American business hours. The workers adopt American names like Glen and Sydney. In a class, taught by a woman with a thick southern-American accent, they learn to lose their Indian accents. Some are customer service representatives, acting as helpful ears for people’s problems and requests. Others are not so lucky. They are employed to persistently hawk products that they don’t even understand, like an 8-piece pancake ring set. Sydney, one such caller, tries to offer an “emergency medical system”. You can hear the frustration on the other end of the line as the listener’s inquiries into what the product is are met with Sydney’s unknowing (and somewhat uncaring) answer: “It’s a medical system for emergencies.”
After their overnight shifts as perfect Americans, they return to their Indian lives. They sleep the day away, only to be woken by their mothers offering meals of dal and other traditional foods. Even as they return to their traditional lives, however, they remain affected by the infiltration of American ideals. Sydney wants to be a dancer. Glen wants to be a model. They adopt attitudes that embrace money and glamour. It’s easy to see that although they don’t take pride in their jobs, it slowly transforms their way of life.
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