Friday Film Review: Outsourced
Outsourced is a movie I’d had in my Netflix rental queue for quite a while but Bonnie Dee’s email to me suggesting it as a review movie got me to move it up the head of the line. Though a 2006 release, the subject matter – someone who’s job is being transferred to another country where it will be done more cheaply and someone who is a fish out of water – are still relevant today.
Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) manages a call center in Seattle for a company that markets kitschy novelty items. He takes pride in customer service as do most of the people who work for him. So when he learns that all their jobs are being eliminated because the call center is being transferred to a small town in India where the company can get eleven people for the price they’re paying one American, he’s mad. He’s really ticked when his boss tells him that he has to travel to India to train his replacement and work with the staff there to get their MPI (minutes per incident – basically the time it takes to resolve a customer problem) down.
But as the next scene shows Todd arriving in Bombay then traveling by taxi and train to this small Indian town, it’s obvious he’s been browbeaten into the job. After making the mistake of eating street food – hello Delhi belly! – he finally meets the man he’s to train, Puro (Asif Basra ), who refuses to let Todd think of staying in a lonely hotel when Puro’s Aunti-Ji (Sidha Shivpuri) has offered to put Todd up at her house. His initial moments in Aunti-Ji’s house prove to be just the start of Todd’s education about life in India.
Because, in reality, that’s what the movie is about. In order to help the call center staff get their MPI numbers down, something another American businessman Todd encounters in Bombay tells him is impossible, Todd first has to understand India and the people there in order to be able to help them understand the American customers they’re trying to help. One person who ends up helping Todd the most, and with whom he eventually falls in love, is the charming Asha (Ayesha Dharker). But as the MPI falls and Todd and Asha grow closer together, will it all ultimately fall apart as the realities of arranged marriages in India and corporate profits in the US conspire against them?
After watching the film, I couldn’t help but think it probably went over better even the few years ago when it was first released. Since then, the recent years of economic upheaval have made outsourcing even more of a flash point issue for people around the world as they watch their jobs being sent overseas leaving them to scramble for the fewer and fewer positions still available in their own countries. And the open ended close of the film, in which Todd has finally told the company, in so many words, what they can do with their policies but where he obviously, at least for the moment, has no job, would probably be seen more as something to be worried about rather than something that’s freed Todd.
But putting all that aside and getting back into the spirit of 2006, it’s a fun, charming little film that is better than it ought to probably be. The director and co-author of the script, John Jeffcoat, spent lots of time junketing around the world including stints in Nepal and India and it’s obvious he’s probably using his own or witnessed incidents to have some fun with the hero. Todd starts out as a clueless American who blithely imagines that he’s going to breeze in, fix what’s wrong and then fly right out of there. But no, that’s just not going to work and here is one of the things I really like about it. There isn’t going to be the Great White Savior who comes in and saves the dark skinned people with his superior wisdom. Instead Todd quickly learns that if he listens to the people there, they can teach him a lot about motivating staff and being a better manager at work as well as more open to what the world has to offer that’s different from what’s in your own backyard.
It’s also got a smart heroine in Asha, who is very much more on the ball than Todd. And in Dharker, the film makers have an actress whose smile will light up the darkest of movie theaters. Basra is great as well and conveys infectious enthusiasm for the chance to earn enough money to finally be able to marry his true love. But I think my favorite Indian character and indeed actor is Sidha Shivpuri who is instantly ready to match Todd up with a nice Indian girl once she ascertains that he’s not gay.
There’s lots of local color and character actors and I like that Todd ends up being the one with the most to learn and who does learn the most. One thing I’m not too sure of is the fact that Asha, though she genuinely seems to care for Todd is treating their relationship as a brief encounter before she goes ahead with the marriage her family arranged for her years before. It’s her “Vacation in Goa” as she explains to Todd. It’s not so much the arranged marriage as the fact that she doesn’t initially tell Todd she sees this as only a fling. He does continue with it on once he knows this but a brief look on his face then and his statements to her later that he hopes to be able to find someone as wonderful as she is with whom he can fall in love make me think his involvement was deeper than she guessed.
It’s kind of predictable, but then few movies of this type aren’t. The open ending allows for various interpretations from Asha and Todd getting together to maybe Todd going back to a country he’s come to love. Watch for several funny moments such as Todd vainly trying to explain to his Indian staff what a “Cheesehead” is and Aunti-Ji’s handyman giving Todd a visual on why only the right hand is used to touch food in India. It was probably more “feel good” then than might be possible today but I enjoyed it as a fun popcorn evening.