"Why would you want a goddess of destruction in your car?" asks befuddled American middle manager Todd (Josh Hamilton) about a dashboard Kali he spies from a backseat in India.
"Sometimes destruction is a good thing," replies the gorgeous, young Indian woman, Asha (Ayesha Dharker), who sees that Todd needs an education in more than just her country's culture and the realities of a 21st-century global marketplace. "She ends one cycle so that a new one can begin." It's a sure bet that Todd will experience some of that destruction, but consequently also experience the beginning of his own very personal new cycle.
The exchange happens about halfway into Outsourced, a charming, laid-back and surprisingly affecting dramatic comedy from new director John Jeffcoat, who co-wrote the script with fellow Seattle resident George Wing (50 First Dates). This modestly budgeted, yet strikingly polished, independent film exudes such warm affection and respect for India and its people that we can reasonably wonder if a love for the country inspired the movie rather than the other way around.
Outsourced opens in Seattle, where Todd supervises the order-fulfillment call center for Western Novelty, a company that sells patriotic and tacky knick-knacks such as ceramic bald eagles, Wisconsin Cheesehead hats and smiling Mr. Hot Dog toasters. Or as an acerbic Todd puts it, his staff sells "kitsch to rednecks." To prop up the bottom line, Todd's boss informs him that his entire division is being outsourced to India, and that Todd will be relocated overseas to personally train his replacement. Faster than he can say "I'm not going to India," Todd has landed in Mumbai and, after a transportation screw-up, is taken away in an open-air three-wheeler taxi to the rural town that's the call center's new home. It might as well be an alien planet where this unhappy, resistant American is temperamentally unprepared for "first contact."
With Todd at the center of this curried-fish-out-of-water story, Outsourced finds the expected humor in the two-way culture clash between Todd and the locals with their unfamiliar taboos and values. The crunch begins with Puro (Asif Basra), the cheerily dedicated Indian
manager, who will eventually take over Todd's job at one-eighth Todd's salary." (Still, that 500,000 rupees is such a windfall for Puro that now he finally feels worthy of the woman he's been hoping to marry since childhood.) For one thing, Puro and his family, with whom Todd lodges, insist on pronouncing his name "Mr. Toad." Soon enough Todd gets a graphic demonstration on why the left hand is considered unclean, a situation made particularly urgent after he eats some roadside vendor food.
On the job at the call center, Todd's frustration deepens when meeting Western Novelty's impossible bottom-line goals means teaching the dozen or so Indian employees how to "sound American" to callers from the U.S. (Later on, there's a master class on learning American accents from Hollywood movies -- "Are you talkin' to me?" -- which leads to a reciprocal education in Bollywood dancing.)
The deceit inherent in Indian employees telling Americans that they're talking to someone from "Shi-caahh-go" while buying American eagles made in China, well, it gets under the skin of Asha, who is as smart and outspoken as she is pretty. You see the romance coming a mile away, and the movie does fulfill that expectation, although with some welcome turns getting there. The relationship between Todd and Asha takes advantage of the casual appeal we find in actors Hamilton and Dharker, and in their seemingly sincere chemistry. And along the way the relationship's course manages to upturn some of our possible preconceptions about the modern generation of Indian women.