Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: One Night @ the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat

One Night at the Call CenterOne Night at the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For its first three-quarters, this is a perfectly decent novel about a group of people working at a call centre. Shyam, the team leader and the main character, struggles to get over his old girlfriend, Priyanka, who works in his team. To add to his unhappiness, his boss Bakshi is an unprincipled moron who routinely takes credit for Shyam's ideas and work. Priyanka still has feelings for Shyam, but wants to make her mother happy, and her mother wants a "better match" for her. The other agents have their problems as well. Esha wants to be a model, but keeps getting told that she's too short. Radhika's mother-in-law is making her life miserable. The man known as Military Uncle says little, and suffers in silence with his secret pain. And finally, Vroom... well, Vroom is screwed up six ways from Sunday.

Their problems and interactions are told believably and engagingly through dialogue and flashbacks to dates between Priyanka and Shyam, which illustrate the deterioration of their relationship. Then comes the moment that they receive, on Shyam's cell phone, a call from God. Ironically enough, this is the moment when the story goes straight to Hell. Each thing they do to "fix" their situation is more inappropriate and implausible than the thing before it. There were scenes that I read while squinting and scanning because that was the only way I could stand them. After all, I didn't want to abandon a book 18 pages from the ending, even if it deserved that.

How did things go so badly wrong? I wonder. It's tempting to blame the phone call from God. After all, this was a completely realistic novel up to that point. One might argue that the author had no business turning it into a fantasy three-quarters of the way through. However, I was willing to accept the God call. After all, the author prepares us for it in the prologue.

In my view, the failing is a moral one. What kind of person thinks it's appropriate to meekly tolerate a boss's betrayals without a word, then all of a sudden blackmail him with a made-up email and physically abuse him? There are abundant options between these two extremes, and a moral adult would try one or two of them before resorting to violence. A moral adult would find a better way to save a call centre than by terrorizing Americans with lies. (By the way, Americans are abundantly and enthusiastically insulted in this book, so think twice before buying it if you are American. I'm actually amazed it got picked up by an American publisher.) Perhaps an author who has not managed to become a moral adult is the one most likely to resort to a literal Deus ex machina to fix his novel. There is a species of laziness here, which itself is a type of moral failing. Furthermore, if the thoroughly unbelievable turnaround of Priyanka followed by the thoroughly unbelievable rejection by Shyam followed by the thoroughly absurd and painful-to-read romantic car chase and reconciliation (thank you, squinting and scanning!) is any indication, the author has watched far too many Bollywood movies.

Yes, the previous paragraph has a lot of spoilers in it, but that's OK, because you don't want to read this book. Trust me. That would be several hours of your life you'd never get back.

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Neha said...

My first book of Chetan Bhagat was "Revolution 2020". That book, may be, good for first time readers but I felt it's a naive novel with a ludicrous plot. Being optimistic, i gained the courage to give a try reading any of his other books. Upon my friends suggestion, in this regard, I bought this.

I finished this book in single night which, at the end, made me feel that the night was simply wasted. The meekly existing veil of inclination towards chetan bhagat's books too simply burned up to ashes after reading this book. No worthy content, no enticing plot and nothing. May be he showcased the woes of call center people but its no way narrated genuine and placid. He tried adding some masala to the story but failed. He tried to include a fragment of philosophy by bringing God into context but it ended up like ridiculous.

Instead of wasting time on books like these, there are plethora of others in the world that really make literature, for reading which not even a life time is sufficient. Intelligently try to spend time on such books.

Vivian said...

Thanks for commenting, Neha! I won't read Revolution 2020 then (not that I was ever planning to. :)

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