Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m just in the mood for a mindless, totally unpretentious, happy little movie. When I'm looking for that kind of experience,I really don't care if it has a four-star or no-star cast, big time director or unique premise. All I ask is that it leave me feeling good about life and the human condition. A two-star movie on a good (or bad) day can be extremely satisfying.

Outsourced is a perfect example. While 95% of this American-made film takes place in India, Outsourced is no Slumdog Millionaire, nor does it try to be. By that I mean that athough it doesn’t dismiss the country’s abject poverty, it doesn’t wallow in it either. Rather, it shows how so many with so little – be it possessions or personal space, are able to live together with dignity and even joy.

The plot revolves around a young American named Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) who is second in command at a novelty company’s Seattle call center. When his boss informs him that the center is about to close and customer service calls outsourced to India, Todd has only moments to decide whether he wants to join the ranks of the unemployed or travel to Mombai, where he will both train his replacement (a sweet-natured soul named Puros) and get the new call center up to speed. His decision drives the plot forward, taking us to an Indian airport terminal just outside the city.

The moment our reluctant hero steps off the plane he's aware that he’s not in Kansas (okay, Seattle) any more. This new (old) world bares little resemblance to the one he has left behind, and it is clear from the first that adjusting to his new surroundings is going to take some doing.

First time co-writer/director John Jeffcoat spent several months in India during his college years, and drew from his experiences there for much of the film's humor and pacing.

A pretty call center rep named Asha is the heroine of the piece. As portrayed by Ayesha Dharker, she is captivating, but not what you would call “movie-star beautiful.” What she is – is smart, and it is this quality that draws Todd to her. I found this premise, in itself, unique and dare I say hopeful?

While Jeffcoat and co-writer George Wing are out to entertain rather than preach or teach, they use humor to acknowledge both the down and up-side of living in a place where so many have so little. Unlike its Slumdog cousin, their India is warm and welcoming, a place where family, community and customs are important and preserved, despite these obstacles.

The humor here is such that nearly everyone can identify with it on some level. Even the not-so-likable characters are likable in their quirkiness, and the enthusiasm and hospitality of the people Todd comes in contact with is catching.

His relationship with Asha is, I suspect, quite plausible–even realistic, while not necessarily delivering the Hollywood ending we Americans have come to expect from our romantic comedies. Then again, Outsourced isn’t your typical romantic comedy. Yes, parts of it are romantic, but unlike the Nora Ephron Meg Ryan/Tom Hank's pairings that we have come to know and love, many of this movie's funniest and most up-lifting moments have nothing to do with their relationship.

Is Outsourced a great movie? No. Not really. But then again, aren’t there times when you would rather have a cold beer on a hot day than a warm glass of fine wine? Maybe not, but you know what I mean. Whether you’re talking gourmet vs. fast food, a great novel or chick lit, epic film or simple indie, sometimes less is can be infinitely more satisfying than more.

In this case, there is a take-home message that lingers long after the rental has been returned, and its title, forgotten. For in putting a face on the Puros and Ashas of this world, Outsourced reminds us that as dissimilar as we are, we are all searching for a way to keep some naan on the table, and our dreams in tact.

When you think of it, it really is amazing that those voices at the other end of the Internet are as calm and pleasant and helpful as they are, given the long middle-of-the-night hours, low wages and constant barrage of questions, problems and verbal abuse they must endure.

Such observations are my own. Writer/Director Jeffcoat only sets the stage and lets the viewer take it from there. No, Outsourced isn't Slumdog Millionaire, or even Norma Ray for that matter. More about satisfaction than dissatisfaction, it is a movie celebrating small kindnesses, gentle people and cultural differences.

A word of caution: do not confuse Outsourced with the similarly-themed 2008 film End of the Line. Though both revolve around a smart young Indian call center agent and an attractive American male, they are a world apart.

In The Other End of the Line, Shira Saran is the ultra-bright Indian rep (Pyria) who works at an American credit card company's Indian-based call center. In Pyria's world, reps can talk to their customers for as long and as often as they like, hooking up with them directly, and chatting about everything from movie stars to getting together for a one-on-one "meet-and-greet" in San Francisco.

Jesse Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives former gardener) is Granger Woodruff, the young American Creative Director on The Other End of the Line,' who drops everything before a job-on-the-line presentation to follow his heart.

I know, I know, this is a movie, not real life. But good romantic comedies - even fantasy-based films, are based on the sensibilities that follow them into Never Neverland. Director James Dawson's Neverland is a schizophrenic world - an unbalanced mix of pratfalls and platitudes. National Lampoon's Vacation one minute, Pretty Woman the next. Dawson even uses the latter's theme song to underscore a 'let's-fall-in-love-in-one-day montage.'

But even a bad movie can serve up a good line or two, and End of the Line is no exception. Close to the end of its one hour-and-forty-six-minute run, there is a wedding sequence, where best-man Granger raises a glass to the happy couple, regaling guests with tales of the groom's life-long penchant for going after what he wants, even if it means taking chances.

Though the words attributed to the groom counteract his on-screen presence as a four-star buffoon, they are well worth remembering. "Nothing should ever hold a man back from his future" quotes Granger, and we can almost see the light bulb of true love shining over his head. Putting down his champagne glass, he makes his way through the tables of wedding guests and heads for the airport in a Pretty Woman/Richard Geer/fire-escape-inspired conclusion.

Well, all this "talking" about India has made me hungry for some home-grown Indian food. Anybody up for some tandoori chicken and a basket-full of freshly baked naan that's second to naan? My favorite Memphis Indian Restaurant is India Palace at 1720 Poplar Avenue. They have a great lunch time buffet featuring all kinds of chicken, lamb, potato, lentil and vegetable dishes, along with a happy choice of desserts that includes a killer rice pudding. And in the summer you've gotta try their mango milkshake-like concoction (I think it's called Mango Lassi). It's just wonderful. Filling - but wonderful.

You'll find several other Indian restaurants around town as well, all of them worth trying. Why not pick a favorite, dine in or out, and top of the night with a little in-home Outsourced entertainment!

Till the next time...

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