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Call centres and cultural identity
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 4min 36sec
Tags - Asia, Australian culture, Diverted to Delhi, India, Screen Asia, colonialism, communication, exploitation, globalisation, identity, job satisfaction, language, values, see all tags
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In this video clip, the camera is in the classroom of a New Delhi, India, call centre college. We see the students performing role-play conversations with overseas customers, including introducing themselves with an Anglicised name, often a celebrity’s name, for their new identity. The trainers’ methods include screening out any students with a hint of a negative attitude to the customer’s country of origin. The motivations of multi-national companies investing in the call-centre industry are explored.
This digital resource is from the project Screen Asia, a joint production of the Asia Education Foundation, Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Screen Australia Digital Learning. Click here for more digital resources for Asia.
Call centres and cultural identity is an excerpt from the documentary Diverted to Delhi produced in 2002. Diverted to Delhi is a Greg Stitt Production, developed in association with the Australian Film Commission and financed with the assistance of the Australian Film Finance Corporation. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
In the middle years of schooling, students can synthesise, analyse, reflect on and apply their learning to personal experiences of Asia in an increasingly independent way. They engage in cultural exchange, reflecting their enhanced understanding of their own culture, and their richer and broader framework of knowledge and understanding of Asian cultures. The aim is that students will increasingly empathise with people from different cultural backgrounds, and develop intercultural values and skills to participate in, learn from, contribute to and engage confidently in diverse cultural environments at home and abroad.
All state and territory syllabuses for English, SOSE and Arts
This film clip is from Greg Stitt’s 2002 documentary Diverted to Delhi which explores the call centre industry. The documentary was filmed in call centre training colleges in Delhi, India. There are also interviews in Melbourne, Australia.
In the documentary, we see intensive training which changes the accents of trainees and immerses them into the perceived culture of the client’s country. Students will be able to step into the shoes of a trainee, empathise with them, and gain an increased understanding of the phenomenon of outsourcing communications. Diverted to Delhi also provides colourful images of ‘incredible India’.
An Australian shopper phoning Coles Myer, an English housewife ringing Harrods and a New York stock broker calling American Express all have one thing in common – Their customer service queries are likely to be re-routed to India and answered by Indians impersonating local operators. It’s an increasingly attractive business proposition – labour and set-up costs are low, yet the staff is keen and highly trained. University graduates at call centre training courses put aside their own identities and learn to speak and think like their international callers.
This clip demonstrates aspects of 21st century global technologies and provides students with an opportunity to understand the impact of these technologies on society (National Goals of Schooling). Viewing this clip will assist students to understand Asia, to develop informed attitudes and values, to know about contemporary Asia, and to connect Australia and India (refer to National Statement for Engaging Students with the Studies of Asia).
Teachers familiar with the film Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle, will recall that the hero, Jamal, works in a call centre in Mumbai as a chai-wallah (tea person).
For background preparation, students should create a ‘Fact File’ rubric of three columns. (Refer to page 50 in In our Own Backyard: Connecting to Global Issues in Our Region edited by Bronwyn Collie, published by Curriculum Corporation, 2006.)
Label your three columns ‘Feature of Comparison’, ‘India’ and ‘Australia’. To complete the rubric, research information for the following ‘features of comparison’ for both countries: Geographic area, Population, Government, Capital population, Dominant language, Other main languages, Main ethnic groups, Religions, Average income per day/year, Average life expectancy, National literacy rate, Major exports including any to India/Australia, Major imports including any from India/Australia, Cultural exchanges with India/Australia.
Activity 1: Ask students to discuss and respond to the following questions:
- Watch the ‘naming ceremony’ role play that the call centre trainees participate in. Then do a reverse role play. You are to introduce yourself and then introduce yourself again with an Indian-ised name beginning with the same letter as your own first name. Like the trainees you could take your new name from famous Indian sportsmen/women, actors, writers, politicians etc. Your teacher will help you brainstorm the possibilities. Make diary notes about how you felt in the role play, and therefore how the Indian trainees might feel about their job requirements.
- What is your opinion of the training which is designed to achieve positive views about America in the call centre employees? Do you agree that the trainee who shows some criticism of America will become a problem for the call centre company and its customers? Why?
- One teacher trainer quotes Gandhi: ‘The customer is your bread and butter’. What do you think Gandhi was saying, and why is the teacher quoting him to her students?
- The 2002 documentary tells us that graduate call centre employees are paid US $40 a week. What is this in Australian dollars? Can you find out what their current weekly pay is?
Activity 2: Individually, in pairs, or in a group, students are asked to write their responses to the following:
- Is it ethical to try to change someone’s lifelong accent for this work? Would you be willing to do that? Why? Would you regard this as essentially an acting job? Or would you take it more personally and feel that your accent and languages were being discriminated against? What other jobs require accent modification training?
Diverted to Delhi Study Guide, Film Australia.
Slumdog Millionaire, 2009, (Film) Directed by Danny Boyle, Fox Searchlight & Warner Brothers.
Adiga, A, 2008, The White Tiger, P127–128 Atlantic Books, London.
Collie, B, 2006, In our Own Backyard. Connecting to global issues in our region, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Collie, B, 2006, In our Own Backyard. Shifting identities, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne. (Ella and Josh’s dialogue about stereotypes on Page 24)
Hamston, J & Murdoch, K, 2004, Australia Kaleidoscope, Curriculum Corporation.
Kwok, J and McKnight L, 2002, Film Asia, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Ledger, S & Ledger R, 2005, Snapshots of India, Curriculum Corporation.
Swarap, V, 2005, 50,000 – How to Speak Australian in Slumdog Millionaire, Black Swan.
Tharoor, S, 2007, The Elephant, The Tiger and the Cellphone – Reflections on India, an emerging 21st century power, Arcade Publishing, New York.
Theroux, P, 2007, The Elephant God novella in The Elephanta Suite, Houghton Mifflin, New York.
Curriculum Corporation, 2004,Think English, Speak English in Popular Publishing, Voices and Visions from India: Texts for the Senior English Classroom CD Rom.
Curriculum Corporation, 2004,Crazy English in Visual and Performing Arts, Voices and Visions from China: Texts for the Senior English Classroom CD Rom.
Curriculum Corporation, 2004, Voices and Visions from India: Texts for the Senior English Classroom CD Rom.