On Netflix: Call My Agent!, the sharp and witty French series about a film talent management agency. Also on Netflix: Call My Agent: Bollywood, the vapid and barely funny Hindi remake.
Call My Agent! (original title Dix Pour Cent, or 10 Per Cent) is about the crisis that hits the fictional ASK agency after its founder’s sudden death. Saddled with debt and dodgy account books, faced with pressure from clients and the competition, and ridden by rivalry between the agents, ASK struggles for survival.
Each episode features cameos by French movie stars playing fictionalised versions of themselves. However, the series cares greatly for its agents. One agent has a love child who joins ASK and complicates matters for him. Another is barely able to keep career and love life together. The third is a lesbian who falls for the auditor who is going through the company’s books.
Call My Agent: Bollywood stars Rajat Kapoor, Soni Razdan, Aahana Kumra and Ayush Mehra as agents at the ART talent company in Mumbai. The company is located in the southern end of the city, far away from the northern suburbs where much of Hindi cinema is created. It’s the first sign of just how delinked the remake is from reality.
The death of ART’s founder sends the agency into a tailspin and pits colleague against colleague. Monty (Kapoor), who is self-serving and secretive, clashes the most with the abrasive Amal (Aahana Kumra). While Mehershaad (Ayush Mehra) tries to stay out of the way, Treasa (Soni Razdan), the oldest employee who has a dog named Pankaj, offers the benefits of her vast experience.
Nia (Radhika Seth), Monty’s daughter from an undisclosed relationship, turns up at ART and manages to get a job there. Mehershaad, who has fallen for the receptionist Nancy (Merenla Imsong), attempts to kick-start her acting career. Amal’s existing anger management issues are further complicated by the arrival of auditor Jasleen (Anuschka Sawhney).
Fond of low-slung handloom saris and low-cut blouses, Jasleen is more oomphy than any of the actors the series producers have managed to recruit. ART supposedly has several A-listers on its roster and there is hushed talk about one “AK”, but none of them is around for the first season.
The moonlighting actors and directors who sportingly send themselves up include Dia Mirza, who is training hard for a Hollywood role, and Tigmanshu Dhulia, who is desperately trying to make an artistic movie that will be premiered at Cannes and eventually shown in Moradabad.
Lillete Dubey and Ila Arun play bitter rivals; Jackie Shroff wants to opt out of a Nandita Das film because he has to share the screen with a dog; Lara Dutta is too obsessed with child-rearing to take her career seriously.
Some of the cameos spoof actual relationships. Mother-daughter pair Sarika and Akshara Haasan warily come together for a Farah Khan project. Richa Chadha and her fiance Ali Fazal disrupt a shoot with their squabbling.
The six episodes that comprise the first season closely follow the French series in terms of plotlines, characterisations and situations. All writers Abbas Dalal and Hussain Dalal and director Shaad Ali had to do was replicate the light and engaging tone of the source material and localise the agent-star dynamics for Indian viewers.
Pas de chance. The remake is riddled with shoddy direction, indifferent writing, shabby production values, and barely any insights into the workings of one of the biggest film industries in the world. A moment when Sarika is told that Shaad Ali wants to cast her in a movie and she expresses her delight is surely an in-joke.
The agents, who should be at the heart of the story, suffer the most from the shambolic direction and writing. The plasticky world in which Call My Agent: Bollywood plays out makes few of its conflicts believable, let alone entertaining.
The cameos by the film talent ultimately overshadow the agents. Tigmanshu Dhulia, Farah Khan, Nandita Das and Jackie Shroff each have amusing turns. The project Dhulia is supposed to make, titled Paidaishi Killers (Natural Born Killers), is a movie we would like to see.
Monty, portrayed by a miscast Rajat Kapoor, is barely the smooth operator who has the ability to make or break ART. Aahana Kumra is unable to find the balance between assertiveness and nastiness for Amal. Her character’s ardour for Jasleen is a sorry excuse for gratuitous girl-on-girl moments. Mehershaad, played by Ayush Mehra as a most unlikely Parsi, is still buffering, like much else in this series.
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