John & Jane Toll-Free

John & Jane Toll-Free

2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5

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Ashim Ahluwalia’s John & Jane Toll-Free is an incredibly depressing documentary about call agents, people of Indian nationality and residence (the film is set in Bombay) who work grinding shifts as “American” telemarketers. They’re essentially trained to give up their cultural identity in the name of the almighty dollar and Ahluwalia, shooting in antiseptic 35mm, films their lives like a purgatorial sci-fi horror show with no discernible delineation between waking and dreaming states. Time and again the director cuts back to his subjects sleeping during harshly bright daylight hours, amid Bombay’s perpetual hustle and bustle: they’re androids dreaming of distinctly Western electric sheep, the worst of them having absorbed such an ignorant view of American culture (as encouraged by the call center’s pop-culture-saturated and demographic-obsessed training programs) that they’ve become prisoners to inextricably false hopes and reveries. As Ahluwalia delves deeper into his subjects’ lives, John & Jane Toll-Free becomes increasingly nightmarish (call it George A. Romero’s Bollywood Office Space), though I fear that the film’s trance-like style—it all-too-appropriately climaxes inside a dance club—finally trumps its necessary substance. As one colleague noted, it’s an enraged critique of Western excess that you can dance to.

HBO Documentary Films
85 min
Ashim Ahluwalia
Glen Castinho, Sydney Fernandes, Oaref "Osmond" Irani, Vandana "Nikki" Malwe, Nikesh "Nicholas" Soares, Namrata "Naomi" Pravin Parekh

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