Hotstar| 13 Episodes| Released: June 2019
Please don’t banish me from the internet for saying this, or turn me into a chicken tikka sandwich, but the Indian remake of the American remake of The Office is not that bad. The American version—which ditched the darkness and misanthropy of the Ricky Gervais original and heaped it with bundles of heart and a more accessible strain of comedy—has a very creepy, cult-like position on the internet. Like with bacon or pineapple pizzas or that stupid chimpanzee (Editor’s note: gorilla) who was encounter-killed, The Office provokes Big Emotions. Its most militant followers tend to talk exclusively in inside jokes and a language of memes developed through repeat background viewings and an unhealthy collection of screenshots. They regard it as ‘theirs’, this cool little secret show (which incidentally has bajillions of fans, including me) that only they own. It’s all very weird. That lot has not taken very kindly to this adaptation.
Anyway, so the Indian version is set in Faridabad, at a branch of a paper company called Wilkins Chawla. The manager of said branch is Jagdeep Chadda (Mukul Chadda), who flits between casual bigot and dad-joke-making bumbling duffer. He calls everyone “buddie”. He’s the Michael Scott duplicate here; a guy whose narcissism and lack of self-awareness is topped only by a burning desire to be loved. Around him are Amit, the Jim-Xerox; Pammi, the Pam-Xerox; TP, the Dwight-Xerox, and a few other photocopies.
It’s literally a dialogue-by-dialogue, frame-by-frame replica of the first 13 episodes (over two seasons) of its older brother, so there’s not a lot to dissect plot-wise. As expected, we get a mockumentary-style workplace sitcom tracking a dead-end paper company and its clueless, tryhard boss, and the fecklessness with which he navigates social situations.
References are contextualised and altered to serve an Indian viewership—Halloween is replaced by a dandiya fancydress party; Chadda wears a Female Body Inspector T-shirt; they play kabaddi instead of basketball; Pammi’s fiancé speaks in a thick Jat accent—but otherwise it’s largely the same. The one place where the creators do take some liberties is in the characterisation of TP—he’s spectacular in his earnest righteousness, an inability to read a room or, for that matter, any social cues, or even his wide-eyed innocence that occasionally tumbles out. Brilliantly, he holds staunch right-wing views, beats up young couples at parks with his friends, and is part of a “shakha”, an angle that, to me, feels inspired.
Thriving in this role is the show’s one true highlight, Gopal Datt as TP. He’s a brilliant actor who slots into this persona effortlessly and, like the American version, manages to humanise a character that’s all too prone to theatrics and caricature.
Thriving in this role is the show’s one true highlight, Gopal Datt as TP. He’s a brilliant actor who slots into this persona effortlessly and, like the American version, manages to humanise a character that’s all too prone to theatrics and caricature. Chadda, on the other hand, can be hit-and-miss at times. I quite enjoyed his take on the Scott character, drawing from the prototype of the superficially warm Punjabi. He’s that loud, drunk, obnoxious, selfish Wedding Uncle we all have, the one who says terrible things, laughs at his own jokes, and makes an ass of himself. But if you dig deep (like really deep), he has a good heart, sort of. However, it can just get a bit much simply because of the time afforded to him on screen.
Therein lies the problem. It’s all much of a muchness. The original show found that delicate balance between cringe and awkwardness. At both its best and worst, The Office (US) was physically uncomfortable to watch. Those clever little spaces of silence, those uneasy seconds of hush that follow an inappropriate remark in a social setting, are replaced here by a breathlessness of delivery. Everyone’s doing something all the time. The ominous feeling of ennui, fragility, and utter loserness is undersold.
On its own, Hotstar’s The Office is an uneven show, which has its moments but never really scales any great heights. But it’s impossible to separate it from all the Saturn rings of context around it.
On its own, Hotstar’s The Office is an uneven show, which has its moments but never really scales any great heights. But it’s impossible to separate it from all the Saturn rings of context around it. It slots into an already-existing subgenre of Indian web series that derive their aesthetic vocabulary from the American show; off the top of my head, I can think of Going Viral Pvt. Ltd. and Better Life Foundation as its spiritual companions. There’s also the fact that the original seasons (on which this one is based) came out in 2005 and 2006; do those stylistic and aesthetic choices still matter today? What was edgy in ’05 is needlessly confrontational and offensive today, and translating those exact jokes across language and era feels like a misstep. Is this show merely an attempt to jump on The Office hype-train?
And then there’s that damn cult. A running thread among its members—they’re called Scott’s Tots (I imagine)—is this disdain for the Indian version simply because of the fear that it’ll be ‘ruined’. Like The Office is this sacred work of timeless art which should not be messed with by lesser souls. (It’s not.)
That, for better or worse, informed my opinion of this show. I felt inclined to not judge it harshly thanks to the godlike status that’s been ascribed to the American one. No work of art, no matter how great, can or should be sacrosanct. Everything exists purely so that it can, in some way, be manipulated, spliced and diced, bettered, worsened, demolished, rebuilt.
Season 1 of The Office (India) is streaming now on Hotstar.