Created: Rajesh Devraj
Directed: Rohan Sippy, Debbie Rao, Vivek Bhushan
Cast: Mukul Chadda, Gopal Dutt, Samridhi Dewan, Gauhar Khan, Preeti Kochar, Chien Ho Liao, Gavin Methalaka, Sayandeep Sengupta, Priyanka Setia, Abhinav Sharma
Streaming on: Hotstar VIP
The fundamental contention with remaking iconic television or cinema across cultures is not just how the content and characters translate, but how the context translates. In an interview last year Priyanka Chopra mentioned hearing the idiom "I have no dog in this fight" in America for the first time. She was baffled, I was intrigued. For a long time after, I tried to Hindi-ize it to "Iss Jung Mein Mera Koi Kutta Nahin" but it just doesn't have the right ring to it.
Watching The (Indian) Office, I can only wonder if the makers persisted enough. An ardent fan of The (American) Office, the trailer of the Indian version filled me with both the fear of bastardizing iconic characters that I grew to love, but also utmost excitement, as any act of desi-fying anything Western elicits from me.
The beauty in, and therefore appreciation for this series lies in its detailing, and for those obsessed with the previously made cult versions of this show, it might be hard to break out and break in.
That being said, I found The (Indian) Office endearing, and enjoyable. The humour is pat, but that is the point- not to laugh, but to chuckle. Besides, some of the detailing and characterization is sheer joy. The caricature of the Bhakt, part-time Anti-Romeo squad, part time wonderer if famous women like Katrina Kaif too menstruate, finds a perfect house in T.P, India ka Dwight Schrute played endearingly by Gopal Dutt (Also ironic name considering TP is used to wipe the butts of white people) So the beet farm from The (American) Office becomes an akhara. Here the good-looking intern is not just good looking, but also a privileged product of nepotism interning at his family business. Angela's cats become Anjali's parrots to whom she teaches the Gayatri Mantra, pizza on a rooftop becomes baingan and lauki. Chadda's mother, Pammi's aunt, book cricket, stapler-kabaddi, and the office boy (also used for running personal errands for the boss) prayerfully filling out lottery forms are all wonderfully refreshing elements. The beauty in, and therefore appreciation for this series lies in its detailing, and for those obsessed with the previously made cult versions of this show, it might be hard to break out and break in.
This is a post Me-too era. How do we reconcile the sexist humour that is tolerated by women who, I would be assuming, are constantly exposed to the Metoo stories coming out?
But when you rework the details, what about the larger setup? The office space remains the same. The relationship between the boss and subordinates, boss and boss' boss remains the same. Maybe this speaks to the contemporary idea of replicating infrastructure- both social and physical- across countries, where you are unable to distinguish an Indian corporate space from an Arab corporate space from an American one. The differences that each culture brings about is in the details. Or maybe it's just lazy production. I would like to believe it is the former.
But the details must involve not working on just the humour (so here 'that's what she said' becomes 'baby bhi yehi boli'… I truly believe they should have persisted more) but also radically rethinking the context, timing, setup and characterization. This is a post Me-too era. How do we reconcile the sexist humour that is tolerated by women who, I would be assuming, are constantly exposed to the Metoo stories coming out? And was it really necessary to make the occasionally offensive Kevin Malone, a complete pervert here? But at least he is sharing his M&Ms this time round.
The sexual harassment episode here only talks about attention given to members of the opposite gender- what about same sex harassment? (Also, the erasure of most endearing, most sassy Oscar, the homosexual Mexican-American… I really feel there was potential for some post 377 masala here)
Jagdeep Chadda played in-sync by Mukul Chadda remains Michael Scott, the poster child of a patronizing megalomaniac with zero self-awareness- he gets slapped, punched, poured beer over, rarely gets laughed with, as opposed to laughed at, but he chugs on, and you cringe deeper and deeper into your chair. But as the episodes progress you begin to sympathize more, and agonize less. So if you are put off by him initially, keep watching, you might end up liking him, or hating him less.
A lot of things are both lost and found in translating, transplanting, and reworking art. Offense is inevitable, both from the culture that is giving, and the culture receiving. Arguments about the essence being changed too much, or the essence being too similar crop up on the margins of the internet. But, here is how I see it. If they could translate our beloved haldi wala doodh into turmeric latte, I don't see why we should pull back our punches in translating one of their cultural edifices.