Disclaimers: Spoilers ahead. So unless you’ve read the book already, proceed at your own risk. Actually, who am I kidding… I can’t spoil it for you even if I tried. Besides, it’s not like I want you to watch the film.
Hello plays out as the story of six… janitors, we think, considering these folks spend more time inside the bathroom than on the phone, at a call centre. Maybe their nocturnal junk-food routine has taken a toll on their domestic lives and had also upset their stomach.
Poor slobs. Their American ass-licking boss who himself works double-shift actually expects them to work on a rainy night! Oooh, Pure Evil!
I mean who in India ever goes to work when it rains? Especially, when your office is sending you a stupid chauffer-driven air-conditioned SUV to fetch you and your entire team. Besides, talking on the phone is such a tough job. Only those freak teens manage to do it full-time.
This particular night, things were all set to hit rock bottom.
If you hear a loud noise when you’re on the job, you know you need to use the bathroom. The girls head to the loo together to discuss men, cars and their salaries as the two single boys (both rejected by their women in office) decide to take matter in their own hands… only to be busted by the boss who catches one atop the other going: Whooo-hoo. Thankfully, the open-minded boss doesn’t mind as long as they leave him out of it. They then swoop down on the Big Boss as he feeds the urinal, probably thinking it’s the most opportune time to tell him about a website they’ve put together. Ahem!
Meanwhile, Military Uncle is busy surfing wild life on the internet and forwards clips of those horny beasts to his little grandson. We really wonder why the spamming goes unappreciated by his son.
The rest spend most of the night in the bathroom so much that at one point, Sallu thought the term call centre was actually a nasty little pun on the place where people answered nature’s calls. He suggested to Chetan that he could be shirtless in a Jacuzzi, have a mystic masseuse stroke more than just his ego, while listening to this story. A story that, for a reason he couldn’t immediately fathom, urgently had to be told… But then, it was only natural in his surroundings that uncontrollable objects be dropped and promptly flushed.
So after another one of the many breaks they get that night, the boys then do what dejected lovers do. One of them fondly remembers the sex they had when things were good (and the bitter-sweet pangs of negotiating a D-Cup inside an SUV) and taps her phone to find out all about her honeymoon plans (The director employs a ‘horny conscience’ as his inside voice).
The other guy breaks the office wash-basin and other canteen props on finding out that someone else beat him to the post and got it cheap.
To illustrate that they are all going through the same shit, the team leader breaks it to the only happily married girl in the office that her husband’s been cheating on her.
The last straw is when they eavesdrop into their boss’s phone line and find out that they’re going to be sacked because apparently, productivity record should never show a clean slate. What’s worse is that their boss has passed off the website idea as his own and was all set to leave to the US.
To cut a long story short, an item song and drunken driving later, they find themselves between life and death as their car delicately dangles over a construction site, with only a sheet of iron bars to hold their weight. That’s when they get a call from the voice talent who used to make a living when Mahabharath was on air.
The phone helpfully flashes the caller ID as God and a brief sermon about the need to accept failure later, they are almost rescued but then Amrita Arora over-acts with so much excitement that she could’ve probably killed them that night jumping in her seat.
After surviving the night, they decide to do what it takes for survival. They sneak into their boss’s office, send off a mail to one of the girls who sleeps cheap anyway, blackmail him for sexual harassment and then web-cast the negotiation live to the US. They then indulge in cyber-terrorism to keep their jobs by spreading a hoax virus alert to their database of dumbkopfs… the poor unsuspecting kinds who assume their bras can be washed in a dishwasher just because their lovers told them that the contents were so edible just the previous night.
* * *
Well, that’s what the film version translates a not-so-great-but-entertaining book into.
While the book showed at least an iota of character depth and a little detail that made a mediocre plot barely readable, Chetan Bhagat and Atul Agnihotri have dumbed it down to a ridiculous extent… especially the virus-alert scam.
In the book, when Priyanka breaks the news of her impending engagement, the girls are happy for her and so is she… She laughs out loud while talking to the prospective groom and seems to have clearly moved on from her previous relationship. Here, the filmy friends mourn in silence when she announces her plans for marriage and it is made amply clear that Priyanka hasn’t moved on at all.
The love story is largely unconvincing and plain, in spite of the fact that Sharman and Gul are the best of the lot. They breathe quite a bit of life in these underwritten roles. Sohail is a riot all right. He begins on a sober understated note and realises he’s more at home with his signature snide remarks, quirks and animated expressions and thankfully, manages to provide some comic relief in this otherwise boring film.
Katrina seems to read from a teleprompter and Salman’s ‘listening’ expression is a lot like the one he would have if he were picturing her naked.
Well, so yes Hello is loyal to ‘One Night’ in terms of story but does it capture the call centre culture as credibly?
The accent of Hello (literally too) completely misses the point. The director lets go of so many places where he could’ve built tension and there’s plenty of scope for that: Whether one’s tapping a phone, or hiding to eavesdrop, or sneaking into your boss’s room and of course, the build up to the conversation with God.
Hang on, the conversation was a little cheesy even in the book. Here, though it’s brief, the gyaan is too general and the filmmaker never puts us into the shoes of every individual and their internal conflicts when they absolutely must introspect.
Given that is the big point the book was trying to make (remember Bhagat’s little exercise at the beginning of the book where he asks you to write down what you fear, what makes you angry and what you don’t like about yourself), the film never quite gets you into that zone or its vicinity.
Remember that last conversation where the narrator tells the storyteller that people want logic and may find it difficult to believe that it was God who called…
Well, in this case, it’s like Sallu after the narration, probably told the makers he would agree if they did exactly the opposite:
“Don’t try to make it realistic, people don’t like logic. They want to see me without a shirt. And Katrina too (but the Censors may not allow that), they want Sajid Wajid ka music, one item song after interval, make out scenes for the multiplex audience… the rest Sohail will take care… Let’s roll.”
*Begins to take his shirt off, humming Just Chill, Chill, Just Chill*