Mumbai Calling’s pilot episode first aired in May 2007. After receiving a terrible critical reception it was instantly panned, but after a slight reinvention of the series and a well deserved second chance provided by ITV, the series began its initial run exactly two years after its failed pilot first aired, to a much more positive, and well earned, reception.
Mumbai Calling is the latest in a long line of British sitcoms, but one that is fairly modern, almost completely original, and utterly different from anything that as come before. The shows premise revolves around British-Indian Kenny Gupta (Sanjeev Bhaskar), who is unwillingly sent to India to improve the profitability of his companies call centre, Teknobable. Also appearing is Terri Johnson (Daisy Beaumont), who was sent in to assess the job being carried out by Kenny, and Dev Raja (Nitin Ganatra), the extremely laid back call centre manager who works solely for the money and doesn’t really care how the call centre is run as long as he can have a laugh and catch a glimpse of the odd belly dancer.
Throughout the series the call centre attempts to address the various problems that the Indian workers have in communicating with their British customers; from not being able to understand regional accents, to lacking assertiveness and occasionally losing their temper. All of these issues are tackled with some truly absurd plot lines that involve everything from Bollywood heroes, the Indian mafia and a drink driving cabbie, all the way up to a photocopied rear-end. Yet despite how clearly ridiculous the plots are, they gel perfectly with the sitcom format and series as a whole, making it easy to watch, without the need to pick holes in the plot.
Characterization fits exactly the same pattern, as almost every character (bar Kenny Gupta) is played in such an over the top fashion, and as a complete stereotype, that they become almost pantomime like; Dev Raja possibly being the main culprit, as he is every bit the Indian counterpart of The Office’s David Brent (doesn’t enjoy work, sex mad, constantly messing around and often making a fool of himself, although Dev is liked by his peers, and is actually a good friend to them), Terri Johnson is the 30 something single business woman that we have seen so many times (workaholic that holds a deep sadness within and is just itching for Mr. Right to come along and whisk her away) and even some of the call centre employees are stereotypes, such as the cowardly young man that’s being forced into an arranged marriage because he is too scared to stand up to his parents and the and the cynical woman who is trying to do her job correctly and help the customers but can’t because she is surrounded by idiots that just won’t listen to her. Yet again, despite the characterization being heightened beyond the point of reality, it works in this situation, and many of the characters funniest moments come from their absurdly heightened stereotypical natures.
The idea of setting the show in an Indian call centre was an extremely clever one, as practically every British viewer will be able to relate to being put through one to of those terribly annoying call centres where it is difficult to understand the unhelpful foreigner speaking on the other end. This series is clever because it approaches that subject matter from the other side of the coin completely, expressing just what a difficult job the Indian call centre operatives really have in dealing with nuisance callers, terrible computer software and a great deal of the seemingly retarded British public.
Direction and the style of the show are also interesting as it is very fast paced and something that appears pretty new to British comedy, featuring many seemingly random and irrelevant (although very funny) sequences that are reminiscent of a ‘Family Guy’ style “Just like that time I… (Insert random joke)”. Like most other sitcoms the plots are very episodic, so it wouldn’t have mattered if you missed one or two during it’s TV run, and the only real lasting plot element is the will they/won’t they relationship between Kenny and Terri; a relationship that is nowhere near as intriguing as the Ross and Rachel dynamic, or even entirely believable, but it does have its moments, both funny and sweet.
All in all this is a fresh new comedy show that despite being overly Asian is quintessentially British; featuring every type of famed British humour, including toilet jokes, endless innuendos, a good deal of slapstick and downright silliness, and even the odd clever lengthy set-up. In truth it’s surprisingly good, and despite a possibly off putting setting, it’s a barrel of laughs from start to finish; granted characters are all heightened beyond realistic levels, the situations are ridiculous and the humour is daft, but aren’t those all the things that make a good British comedy funny?
The picture quality of Mumbai Calling can be summed up in two words, consistently average. That is not to suggest that this is in anyway a bad transfer, although it is somewhat under whelming; the series uses a wide range of vibrant and bright colours, as well as the mucky mid tones of the Indian streets, and the contrast stands up rather well to these extremes, as does the picture quality itself, with little if any noticeable difference between the indoor studio shots and the scenes set outdoors in the Indian sun. There’s no real grain to speak of, for a DVD transfer, but the detail levels aren’t especially high either, and as almost all of the series was shot indoors the overall impression is that they could have done better. Anyone not looking for superior quality, or content with mid range quality, will be more than impressed, because there are no problems, but this transfer certainly won’t hold water against other TV series such as the BBC’s impressive transfer of their Robin Hood series (Blu-ray picture on that release is superb).
Audio, as with the picture, is nothing spectacular. Being a sitcom Mumbai Calling doesn’t need the most diverse and expansive soundfield, however it could have greatly benefited from some bustling street noise emulating from the rear speakers (during the outdoor shots), however being released with only two channel stereo that was not possible. However, sound levels are extremely clear with dialogue clearly audible over the hustle and bustle of the Indian call centre, and once the volume level is set it will never need to be altered. A big drawback on the audio front though is the Mumbai Calling theme tune, which is possibly on of the most annoying themes ever created, and played repeatedly over the DVD menu, and several times during each episode.
Mumbai Calling has three extra features, a making of, a series Promo and an interview with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nitin Ganatra. The making of featurette is extremely long (lasting just over an hour), and unnecessarily so; there’s the usual behind the scenes look, interviews, outtakes and other assorted extras, but each feels stretched. There are some interesting moments and anecdotes in it, such as the discussion of how Indian culture affected the shoot (needing to have everything blessed every morning and refusing to remove pigeons from the set) and how Nitin was mistaken for a terrorist while running through an airport to attend his child’s birth, and it is clear that everyone who worked on the show loved the experience, however this feature is only for hardcore fans, as it becomes tremendously tedious very quickly.
The promo, as you may have guessed, is just a long advert, and one that actually manages to make the series look less funny than it actually is; one to avoid. The interview with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nitin Ganatra is similarly pointless as it has a rather bland tone and neither one really expands on the series or provides any interesting info or anecdotes.
The Bottom Line:
Mumbai Calling is a very good comedy series for one simple reason, it’s funny. It’s no Fawlty Towers, it’s no Blackadder and it’s certainly no Only Fools and Horses, but it has all the elements of a classic British comedy; toilet humour, innuendo and slapstick all tied in with suitably ridiculous plots. The acting is somewhat over the top, but that suits the characters and situations perfectly, there are some interesting guest stars (such as Richard E. Grant) and a new and suitably modern setting. The extras on the DVD are largely a waste of time and the picture and audio quality is far from astounding, however, that shouldn’t deter anyone from watching this laugh out loud comedy. Obviously anyone who isn’t usually into comedy should stay away, but viewers that like a good laugh are such to enjoy the series and at around £12 it’s a bargain price for a series that comes highly recommended.