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Hello is a Bollywood (Hindi language) film released in 2008 based on the Chetan Bhagat bestseller "One Night at the Call Centre" which I read a couple of years ago and quite enjoyed.
A famous Bollywood actor's helicopter is being repaired so he has to sit waiting in a private airport lounge. Whilst waiting he is approached by a woman asking if she can use the power socket for her laptop. She tells him she will tell him a great story but only if he promises to make it into a film. He's rather amused when she says it's about 6 people who work in a call centre who receive a phone call. Then she says they received a phone call from God which grabs his attention.
Shyam, Priyanka, Vroom, Esh, Radhika and Military Uncle work in an Indian call centre under tyrant of a boss Bakshi, a wannabe American. Whilst on the surface they all seem to be living contented lives, one night at the call centre everything comes to a head and each of the 6 individuals' problems come out which can either tear them apart as a team or bring them closer as people.
After nearly 5 minutes of cast and crew credits the film starts with a song and dance routine visualised on Salman Khan called "Bang Bang Bang". This never bodes well for me - and Salman Khan going topless through part of the song didn't help either! The woman who approaches him is played by Katrina Kaif, Khan's real life girlfriend. Khan and Kaif appear in the movie for probably 15 minutes in total. I understand the film has not been a hit so far. People who've read the book might feel the film doesn't reach the book's standards, it being a best-seller (in India) and all that but I wanted to watch the film and judge for myself.
Shyam (Sharman Joshi) is the most senior member of the call centre team he works in with aspirations to be a Team Leader. His "work name" is Sam; he used to date Priyanka but they're no longer together so he's dating the rather irritating Shefali to get Priyanka out of his system. The character of Shefali was awful for the whole 2 minutes of her appearance on screen; do grown ups like this really exist? She makes Shyam call her "girly wirly" - ugh! Joshi plays his role quite well, probably the best one in the film, but then again the story is told from his perspective so I guess they had to make him the character you could most relate to. I haven't seen this guy in many films but I think this was the first I saw him as the main protagonist.
Priyanka's mum wants her to marry US settled Indian, Ganesh, who works for Microsoft much to Shyam's dismay. Ganesh is buying a Lexus which is supposed to be very impressive and he's obviously quite well off. Priyanka (Gul Panag) tells Shyam that her mum married her dad at a young age and spent her life washing up and waiting on her husband whilst her sisters got better education and married more educated men who had decent jobs and had better lives. I can understand where Priyanka is coming from with her explanation of why she wants a better life but this mentality is rather out-dated. Who says you have to get married to a man and stay at home expecting him to be the only one earning? The Ganesh character comes across as a real buffoon, he's supposed to be born and raised in the US yet he claims he's fallen in love with Priyanka from just seeing her photo and decided to marry her on that basis. Gul Panag is someone I've never heard of and if I saw her in a film next week I doubt I'd recognise her, she left so little impact as a character in the film. Amrita Arora was decent enough in her down-trodden role, the victim of a neglectful husband and a evil mother-in-law!
Vroom (Sohail Khan) is a rather hot-headed guy who's supposed to a bit of a stud has a crush on Esha (Isha Koppikar) who seems to want to stop at nothing to get her modelling/acting career off the ground. The more time that passes, the more she realises she's chasing an unattainable dream. I didn't think Khan and Koppikar had any screen chemistry and his idea of "courting" her was just dire and it was no wonder she kept turning him down. I don't rate Khan much as an actor but felt he did somewhat better in this film than others I've seen him in. Koppikar was bland and didn't impress in the least. Her dialogue delivery was flat even when she was being emotional it just wasn't credible.
Sharat Saxena is an older man (referred to as Military Uncle by the rest of the team) seemingly living alone whose grown up son lives in the US with his family. He is devastated when his son emails him asking him to stop cluttering his email inbox. It's quite sad when you think this older man just lives for any contact from his son and grandson and then is told to stay out of their lives. Saxena was probably the best at playing his role after Joshi even though his part wasn't major.
Dalip Tahil (the ill fated Dan Ferreira from Eastenders from some years ago) as Bakshi the boss is a stereotypical bad guy boss who kisses up to the American bosses to an embarrassing extent. I've never thought much of this guy as an actor and this film did nothing to change that opinion. He just always reminds me of a pantomime character (which incidentally is why he came to the UK in the first place before taking a role in Eastenders), he should have stuck to panto! There's a major part of the story about taking credit for someone else's work which didn't seem realistic. It would have been very easy to prove his guilt but the team had to work out a fool-proof plan which again in line with many scenes in the film was over the top.
There are many scenes where the call centre team poke fun at the people that call in. People make endlessly stupid calls such as a laptop not working as it wasn't switched on, microwave being taken apart so as to fit in a larger dish, bras getting stuck in the dishwasher and the caller being told the dishwasher is really just for dishes, a guy having his sock stuck to the end of his vacuum cleaner (whilst actually wearing the sock) and not thinking to switch off the power! I imagine people really do ridiculous things like this. I recall working in IT back in the 90s and people would often call to say their printer wasn't working and the first questions I would ask which some would find offensive was "Is the power on?" or "Is it plugged in?" I think they went a bit too far here making out all Americans (or generally westerners) are dim and only Indians are smart. During one scene a trainer (who's supposedly American but didn't sound it) is telling the call centre agents that the average 35 year old American has the intelligence of a 10 year old Indian, which I felt was just extremely offensive. If Americans and all westerners are so lacking in intelligence why then does India need to rely so heavily on call centre business from those countries? The tactics used later in the film when almost half of the call centre staff are faced with redundancy (without giving away any major spoilers) were underhand and immoral, whether or not they served their purpose, I didn't feel it was so clever to include that in the storyline. For these reasons the film won't be received well outside of India or with Indian audiences.
Whilst I imagine it's quite offensive for a call centre agent to be asked questions like "What did you have to do to get this job? A degree in Physics?" At the end of the day the people at the call centres are being paid to do a job and have chosen to work in the customer services arena. Having worked on the receiving end of incoming calls in a technical support capacity decades ago I recall always treating the caller with respect no matter how bizarre or simple their issue might have been. I felt the incessant customer bashing side of this film was quite over the top and unfair.
There are a couple of catchy dance numbers in the film but these leave your mind pretty much straight after they end. In one nightclub scene people are dancing to a song whilst the screen switches between the dance floor and Shyam and Priyanka getting up close and personal in a car. There was another club number with ballet dancers in almost risqué red tutus which almost a decent performance until the ballet dancers started floating around the screen which just looked stupid! It was a very unrealistic song/dance number which looked like a rip-off of Cirque du Soleil or something similar.
I can't really say much about the cinematography as it was nothing special. Most of the scenes were either in the call centre or in bars/clubs bar a few scenes in cars driving at night and these didn't seem to be filmed particularly professionally. The key scene where God telephones the group of 6 in a car was poorly filmed and could have been done so much better.
Having enjoyed the book, I was intrigued to see how One Night at the Call Centre would transfer to the screen. I found that the film was pretty much true to the book version with the characters all keeping the same names and the back stories were also the same. Some of the dialogue seemed to be lifted straight from the book which made me wonder if they bothered to do a proper screenplay or just transferred the book straight to film with the help of the author who is credited with giving additional dialogue! I felt the film would have overall fared better with a more polished screenplay.
I'm happy to give Hello a generous 3 out of 5 stars as the story is not your typical Bollywood fare. If I had watched the film without having read the book I doubt my rating would have been much different.
Starring: Sharman Joshi, Sohail Khan, Amrita Arora, Isha Koppikar, Sharat Saxena, Gul Panag, Dalip Tahil
Director/screenplay/producer: Atul Agnihotri
Additional dialogue: Chetan Bhagat
Music: Sajid Wajid
Cinematography: Sanjay F Gupta
Playback singers: Sunidhi Chauhan, Daler Mehndi, Sonu Nigam, Sadhana Sargam, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Shaan, Wajid Ali, Suzanne D'Mello, Merlyn D'Souza, Zubin Garg, Sandeep Shirodkar
Duration: 125 minutes
Release date: 2008
There's a certain part of the storyline in the film which leads me to believe some rather unethical people have been using the same con to call up people in the UK purporting to be from Microsoft saying they have technical problems with their laptop or PC. Most people I hope would be tech savvy enough to know this is a scam but these people try to gain "remote access" to your PC to grab your passwords and contacts lists to get into your bank accounts or details of your credit cards and PIN numbers or target more people from your contact lists to try to scam. BE WARNED in case you haven't yet been a victim of this!