Sunday, 31 May 2009

MUMBAI CALLING 1.1 - "Teknobable"

Sunday, 31 May 2009

You can't approach any ITV sitcom without trepidation, given their terrible track record. But there was a reason to feel hopeful about Mumbai Calling: between them, writers Sanjeev Bhaskar and Simon Blackwell have worked on Goodness Gracious Me, Peep Show and The Thick Of It – award-winning, intelligent comedies. A promising sign, until you remember that Mumbai Calling's based on a 2007 pilot nobody took any notice of, and appears to have been revived for lack of anything better to broadcast...

The series concerns English accountant Kenny Gupta (Sanjeev Bhaskar), who was sent to India six months ago to work in the company's Teknobable call centre. His transfer actually formed a stronger basis in the '07 pilot, but is less pertinent now. The business is run by randy manager Dev Rajah (EastEnders' Nitin Ganatra), who in this episode is told to expect the arrival of another British suit -– hardnosed assessor "T. Johnson" -- who turns out to be attractive businesswoman Terri Johnson (Star Stories' Daisy Beaumont)...

There's not much else more going on, although we learn that Kenny has found his experience of Mumbai inordinately depressing. All that sunlight and culture, eh? The storyline was pure set-up that introduced the characters, their jobs, the environment they work in, and its associated Indian flavours. Predictably, scene transitions were accompanied by a twanging sitar.

The show has a number of things in its favour, thank Ganesha: it's been filmed on location in the real Mumbai, which immediately lends it credibility and authenticity; Ganatra proves to be a gifted comic actor; the call centre backdrop is interesting enough to keep us watching (for now); and there were some amusing background characters that will hopefully get fleshed-out.

The major letdown is simple: it wasn't funny. The thing with comedy is that, while you can appreciate a fun idea and likeable actors, it's all for nothing if it doesn't makes you laugh. A weak story I can contend with (I almost expect it from introductory episodes), but you need a flow of amusing jokes for a sitcom to justify its existence. Mumbai Calling lacked a sense of life in a very dry script. This could have been an Indian version of 30 Rock (only set in a call centre, not a television studio), but that Tina Fey-starring comedy throws out more gags in 30 seconds than this managed in 30 minutes.

That said, I'm going to stick with it for another week or so -- mainly because so many sitcoms just need time to relax and for the comedy to build from the characters. And we don't really know anyone just yet. The main thing that impressed me about "Teknobable" was Ganatra's lively performance (he even got away with a terrible rant about "tor-poo-does" when Manchester-based callers were ringing to complain about a flood), and a part of me refuses to believe Bhaskar and Blackwell sat down and wrote eight unfunny episodes...

30 May 2009
ITV1, 10pm

written by: Sanjeev Bhaskar & Simon Blackwell directed by: Allan McKeown starring: Sanjeev Bhaskar (Kenny Gupta), Daisy Beaumont (Terri Johnson), Nitin Ganatra (Dev Rajah), Naren Chandavarkar (Amit), Nami Das (Amar), Ratnabali Bhattacharjee (Sarika), Preetika Chawla (Nayna), Sugandula Garg (Call Centre Operator), Siddarth Kumar (Prem), Kanchan Pagare (Call Centre Operator), Puja Sarip (Geeta), Samar Sarila (Nikhil) & Tracey Ullman (Telephone Voice)