Youth in India can make a pile of money in outsourced jobs

National Film Board of Canada PHOTO


Sudhanshu Vachaspati, left, a call-centre manager in Mumbai, celebrates a sale with a co-worker. He is one of the subjects of a NFB documentary Bombay Calling, about youth culture in India and how young people there are relying on telemarketing sweatshops in order to get ahead.

Sudhanshu Vachaspati keeps on catching clips of himself on National Geographic TV in India.

He’s become a small cable celebrity, and the face for a rising and affluent youth culture in that nation of one billion, where outsourcing has given students the chance to make more money than their parents — but not always the wisdom to know what to do with it.

“Either you perform or you perish,” the 30-year-old Vachaspati says of working in a call centre. He’s one of the lead characters in the NFB documentary Bombay Calling that’s just been released on DVD.

Vachaspati was featured in the film as one of the call centre managers, working night shifts, overseeing a flock of young Indians calling overseas to annoy wealthy North Americans with great promotional offers available in this telemarketing call only!

The film documents their struggle to juggle classes with late shifts and explores the burgeoning nightlife growing around their odd hours.

“I stayed in India for a research trip,” says filmmaker Samir Mallal. About a decade ago, he remembers, “there was one Western restaurant. It was a KFC and it was closed after one day because it wasn’t hygienic.”

When Mallal returned to Mumbai, as Bombay is now officially called, to do research with co-filmmaker Ben Addelman, he found a very different place from the country he knew. Pizza Huts and other cornerstones of Western cuisine were everywhere, and cellphones were mandatory.

Call centres had become a way for English-speaking Indians to make a very quick, very lucrative rupee by night — usually while trying to keep up with a correspondence classes.

“Bombay (Mumbai) has become a real IT hub,” says Addelman.

But the workers can often become trapped by the money in what are essentially dead-end jobs.

When they start making what would be the equivalent of $70,000 a year here, the filmmakers say it’s hard for them to go back to school or to consider lower-paying, but more intellectually rewarding occupations. Often, the money gets blown on clothes or partying, hobbies that worry traditional Indian parents who suddenly find their children earning more than themselves.

“They’re still remarkably innocent from our point of view. They don’t act like a kid with $70,000 would do here,” says Addelman. “And they all still give their parents 20 to 30 per cent of their income,” adds Mallal.

But for the workers themselves, the money appears to be worth both the hours and the stress. “I had one girl (start crying) when an American swore at her on the phone,” says Vachaspati. “I had to tell her, ‘It’s not you they’re angry at. It’s the company."

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