The title makes it sound like a Western, but “The Other End of the Line” is more of an Eastern-Western, offering a pretty savvy take on the romantic possibilities of subcontinental telemarketing. Girl calls boy, girl meets boy, boy loses girl and girl’s parents come from Mumbai to San Francisco to do a whole lot of handwringing in this frothy comedy from helmer James Dodson, a winning Stateside debut for beautiful Indian actress Shriya Saran. Despite its charming cast, this MGM release managed to dial up just $57,000 from 91 engagements for a per-location average of $626.
Most Americans react to Indian telemarketers the way they react to a jury summons, but they seldom get anyone as professional or as winning as Priya Sethi (Saran). Priya is the most eager-beaverish at Citi One Bank Card’s Bangalore call center, the employee with the best American accent, the most nuanced knowledge of American fast food, the one who can distinguish Sarah Jessica Parker from Mary-Louise Parker. Thus, she’s also the best at convincing Americans on the phone that she isn’t an Indian woman, but rather Jennifer David of San Francisco.
Some of scripter Tracey Jackson’s best material is in the call-center scenes, where often beleaguered, well-mannered Indians are abused daily over the phone. (“Can I get out of New Jersey?” one worker pleads. “Everyone’s swearing at me.” No, her supervisor says: “Everyone starts in New Jersey.”) Investigating a case of identity theft, Priya ends up calling good-looking Bay Area ad man Granger Woodruff (Jesse Metcalf) so often that they develop a phone relationship, which leads to expectations on both ends. The problem: Priya is being pushed into an arranged marriage and, unbeknownst to Granger, doesn’t live in San Francisco.
But that’s where they end up meeting, via a series of contrivances that should be tiresome but end up being tolerable, mostly thanks to Saran. Her Priya is in fact a little too hip for a supposedly obedient Mumbai girl — hipper than Granger, even. He and his pal and partner, Charlie (Austin Basis), are trying haplessly to develop a campaign for a chain of hotels whose owner, Kit Hawksin, as played by Larry Miller, is the other reason to see this movie. The comedian isn’t in nearly as many movies as he should be, and his timing here is hilariously deft. Where much of “The Other End of the Line” has to adhere to a daffy sweetness, Miller takes Jackson’s material into a different realm entirely.
That’s a good thing, because the rest of the film shoplifts from any number of movie romances, including “Pretty Woman,” “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” and, most shamelessly, “An Officer and a Gentleman.” But as cross-cultural bridge-builders go, pic is smart, funny and sweet enough to make you reassess your attitude next time you get reach tech support in New Delhi.