John & Jane

John & Jane


Reviewed by: Susanna Krawczyk

An enormously dispiriting beast is this. The sad effects of globalisation on a group of Indian call-centre workers: accent elimination classes, name changes and the instilling of “American Values”. Witness the strange hybrid that is Namrata/Naomi; her accent is a painfully studied Southern drawl, but she still has trouble pronouncing the letter “V”. Her hair is blonde, naturally she claims, and she is looking for the perfect light-skinned man who shares her new-found values.

Not as terrifying perhaps are “Nikki” and “Osmond”, both of whom also buy into the American Dream being offered to them. Not terrifying, but rather sad. Both are convinced that the call-centre offers an escape into the utopia that is America. Osmond dreams of owning his own business, making networking calls from his dilapidated kitchen and making positive notes all over his (punishingly long) list of working hours. Nikki has become a devoted Christian and sees her job as spreading love to people all over the world.

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Pity and then guilt are the two dominant emotions that this film elicits. It is all too easy to pity these people, to think them deluded and wildly optimistic in thinking that a company that values them only as long as they are poorly-paid, doing menial tasks and working ridiculously long shifts well into the small hours of the night will be, as one of the workers puts it “a mother figure” to care for them. Then there is the guilt: it is our culture (well, American culture, but we are not so different) that is causing these people to give up most of their waking hours in order to try to sell us things we don’t even need.

Of course, in the end it is not just the Indians who are being made anonymous, it is “John and Jane Doe”, the faceless customers on the other end of the line, who are also without identity in the transaction. In this world, only the companies are treated as real. This is what is ultimately so depressing about the phenomenon known as outsourcing, and about globalisation as a whole.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A documentary about Indian call centre workers.

Director: Ashim Ahluwalia

Year: 2005

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: India

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