In April, a collective whoop of joy went up when the makers of the French comedy drama Call My Agent announced that besides a feature film, a fifth season of the show was in the offing. Set in a Parisian talent management agency, the title of this workplace series—Dix Pour Cent—refers to the 10% commission talent agents take from their clients. Last week, Netflix India dropped a six-part series that is an official remake of the hit series. However, Call My Agent Bollywood, written by Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal and directed by Shaad Ali, barely captures 10% of the original’s charm, comedy, wit, mood, self-deprecating humour or, well, anything.
The four seasons of the French series follow agents Mathias, Arlette, Andrea, Gabriel and their assistants. In Call My Agent Bollywood the main agents of a Mumbai-based agency called ART are—in a textbook depiction of religious diversity—Monty (Rajat Kapoor), Treasa (Soni Razdan), Amal (Aahana Kumra) and Mehershad (Ayush Mehra). The USP of the French series is the cameos by top French talent. Actors and directors played themselves with flaws and irony, something Farah Khan, Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha get right in the Bollywood version. However, others, like Lara Dutta, Sarika, Akshara Haasan and Ila Arun, remain self-conscious and present staged versions of themselves.
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Some scenes, character traits and relationship arcs are facsimiles of the original but the essence has been lost in translation. Like actor Cécile de France in the season-opening episode, in Bollywood, Dia Mirza plays the actor considering cosmetic surgery to fit the role of a younger woman. In episode 2, Lillete Dubey and Ila Arun compete for the same role. Their rivalry plays out at ART agency owner Soumyajit Dasgupta’s (Tinnu Anand’s) funeral. When Jackie Shroff drops out of Nandita Das’ film due to a phobia, not unlike François Berléand’s fear in episode 6, Amal (aping Andrea) scales a wall to persuade the actor to reconcile with the director. The scooter-riding Gabriel is re-imagined as BMW-driving Mehershad, with a similar unkempt, unshaven look.
The series lacks the lived-in feel of an office and characters hurtling from crisis to crisis. Costumes, hair, art direction and background music are on overdrive, much like Amal’s libido. Call My Agent Bollywood was loaded with potential. But instead of adapting the setting to a Bollywood-centric agency dealing with its unique, culture-specific issues, the makers have copy-pasted situations, mise-en-scène and even costumes. Why are agents in muggy Mumbai wearing jackets and what exactly was the brief for the set of the ART office, located near the iconic heritage buildings of CST and BMC?
Nearly all the characters have become parodies of their inspiration. I missed sexually charged Noémie (Sonia, played by Priyasha Bhardwaj here), who secretly longs for her boss Mathias (Monty). Assistant Camille’s small-town naïveté and the hesitation that come from a long-held secret are replaced by Nia’s (Radhika Seth’s) default expression—a smile to get her through every situation. The wise senior ASK agent Arlette is replaced by a Treasa who floats around in fancy saris, contributing little besides caring for her pet dog Pankaj.
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In Bollywood, the “agenting” aspect is lost, the love for the art is lost, the humour is lost. Monty’s family drama is diluted, Amal’s sexuality is amped up and her aggressive, almost comical depiction of lust, is unbearable. Interestingly, the original’s gay character has been recast as nerdy but straight and a diversity representation is a wannabe actor from the North-East (Merenla Imsong).
Cast this remake aside and watch the four seasons of Call My Agent (also on Netflix) instead. It will be far more rewarding, one hundred per cent.
Udita Jhunjhunwala is a writer, film critic and festival programmer.