One Night @ the Call Center opens on a late-night train from Kanpur to Delhi, as author Chetan Bhagat realizes he is sitting across from a mysterious, beautiful woman. Interested, he begins a conversation; she recognizes him as the famous author. The woman suggests: “I might have a story for you,” she says, but it comes with a condition: if she tells him the story, he must write it. They agree, and the story begins: a story of call center workers in Gurgaon, Haryana (a southern suburb of Delhi), who spend their nights awake helping impossibly challenged Americans through their technological crises – ranging from microwaves and ovens to computers – and, accidentally, providing an occasional free phone sex line. The story concerns narrator Shyam (“Sam” to his American callers), shift manager at Connexions, and his five co-workers, their America-loving boss, and the one fateful night at their call center, when they receive a phone call…from God.
Originally published in English (its largest readership in India), it was quickly translated into Hindi and Gujarati. Bhagat is the biggest selling English-language writer in India, and the book remained on the Times of India bestseller list from December 2005 to January 2008. In 2008, Bhagat adapted the book to film, releasing Hello in October 2008 to outstanding box office success.
The book and the movie inspire a new type of "media effects" study, with the telephone as its medium of focus. These popular texts hold a particular idea of the American (or white foreigner) with whom the Indian is forced to communicate across distances linked by satellites, wires, and the globally fuzzy conception of “outsourcing.” Indeed, identity is even managed across phone lines. Over the course of a phone conversation, each participant has imagined the person on the other end - and, in doing so, has also reflected on herself. What potential can these dialogic moments hold for a critical reflection on the practices of identification? Narratives like those featured in Hello and One Night @ the Call Center suggest a way of viewing the other without ever having viewed him. What affective - or even potentially political - relationships are possible when the other you’re "viewing" is otherwise unseeable?