The Office India review: Good performances, apt casting make Hotstar's lazily-written remake watchable
The Office India is a mixed bag of great performances and casting, but lazy writing that one cannot ignore.
What's with Hotstar and remakes?
Well, without being a purist, here's the good news: Hotstar's The Office India (which is a remake of Ricky Gervais' British sitcom) isn't all that bad as a remake. It has some redeeming qualities, and manages to make you laugh several times through its 13-episode run. The bad news: its cringe-worthy moments will really make you cringe (and not in the way the US version did, ultimately accepting it as a comedy trope.)
Three of the four series so far under Hotstar Specials, which is the streaming platform's slate of Indian-original (using this word very loosely) content, are remakes: Criminal Justice (remake of BBC original of the same name), Hostages (remake of 2013 Isreali show of the same name) and now The Office. Thankfully, the format of The Office — crisp 20ish minute episodes, shot in mockumentary-style — lends itself well to adaptations.
The British original brought to audiences a unique way of watching sitcoms in a post-Friends and Seinfield world, that ultimately set the benchmark for shows like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. It celebrated the ordinary and mundane. It allowed us to find entertainment in everyday stories and championed quirky characters over larger-than-life ones. The US version, led by the brilliant Steve Carell, took it one step further — giving us the ultimate meme-able, cult show that is on every pop-culture junkie's best series list.
So, where does The Office India stand? It's a mixed bag of great performances and casting, but lazy writing that one cannot ignore.
Let's start with the characters (because when it comes to The Office, one must.) Jagdeep Chaddha (Mukul Chadda) plays Michael Scott, the branch manager (Faridabad, pronounced Frreedabaad, since he's 'Fun-jabi') and he tries so hard to be NCR's Steve Carell that it just doesn't work. This is ironic, considering one of Michael Scott's most humourous/endearing qualities is that he tries too hard.
TP Mishra (Gopal Dutt) is the Indianised Dwight Schrute; he's a nerdy right-wing stereotype, which means he spends his weekend as part of an anti-Romeo squad harassing couples in public, worships cows, and spurts "Siachen" and "anti-national". It is a delight to watch Gopal Dutt on screen, who plays this part to perfection; he almost always makes you laugh just by his expressions and presence. Amit and Pammi (Sayandeep Sengupta and Samridhi Dewan), the Indian Jim and Pam, take some time to grow on you. In the beginning, you find it hard to relate to them and don't see any chemistry, but soon their ordinary-ness starts to become "cute" — an adjective often used to describe Jim and Pam, too.
Then, there's my favourite character of the lot, Kutty, who is an amalgamation of Stanley Hudson and Kevin Malone, and also the token South-Indian in the office. Gavin Methalaka beautifully merges the traits of both these characters; sometimes he's Kevin-like and geeky, and sometimes he's as sassy as Stanley. Speaking of tokenism, Chien Ho Liao plays Rinchin, who seems to be playing out Oscar. Both characters often become victim to their roots — Rinchin is Northeast Indian, but is born and brought up in Karkardooma, Delhi, as he insists when Jagdeep Chadda quizzes him about where he's really from — but the show allows them moments to subvert it too.
The remaining characters are well cast as they remind The Office fans of the original characters but also have enough meat to stand on their own. There's Sarla ji, Saleem, Anjali, Madhukar, and Riya, who stand in for Phyllis, Creed, Angela, Toby and Jan respectively. Riya (played by Gauhar Khan) slowly but surely secures her place in this series, which is great since Khan is a stellar actor. Each character is carefully crafted to suit Indian sensibilities, while still staying true to the original characterisation. And then there's Ranvir Shorey, who has a cameo in the sexual harassment episode, and instantly lights up the screen.
Fans of The Office US will agree that the first 2 seasons are the weakest, and the show picks up steam season 3 onwards. The Office India packs in (almost) two seasons' worth into one 13-episode season. This is a great idea on paper, but hard to execute on a writing level. Which would explain why the first few episodes are a frame-by-frame copy, almost to a point of being caricaturish.
Since the time frame isn't established, the show-runners could have adapted this to 2019 in terms of themes and updated the humour points. Instead we get the same old: Sexual harassment workshop, Anekta Diwas (Diversity Day), Kabaddi match between warehouse and office employees, a Navrati special episode (based on the Halloween special). Some laugh-out-loud moments, courtesy Gopal Dutt and Gavin Methalaka, allow you to easily watch a couple of these episodes in one sitting, but then some of the jokes just don't land. In fact, it may compel fans to stop watching midway through. The worst of the lot is taking Michael's favourite phrase, "that's what she said" and making it, "Baby bhi yehi boli." Cue cringe (the bad kind).
Chandler Bing had said on FRIENDS that there are two kinds of humour: sarcastic-funny, and "haha"-funny. The Office India heralds a third kind: snicker along in compliance because, wait, what you're watching isn't as bad as you expected. Let's hope the subsequent seasons get better. In the meanwhile, Hotstar should consider bringing back Better Life Foundation.
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