‘Outsourced‘ (NBC Thursday, 9:30 ET) has one of the most controversial premises of the new television season: an American call center is closed and the management trainee moves to India to supervise the outsourced employees who have taken over their jobs. It sounds like a searing indictment of the recession. In fact, it’s a fish out of water story about a twentysomething adjusting to a new culture. The callcenter staff are wacky underdogs. It’s a workplace comedy with a dash of curry. Two of the show’s stars, Ben Rappaport who plays ex-pat Todd and Anisha Nagarajan who plays the painfully shy Madhuri, joined Executive producer Robert Borden for a conference call.
Borden insists that there is nothing offensive about the premise, saying, “If you haven’t seen it, I think it’s a valid question, but when you see the pilot you realize it’s really just a point of departure to get our lead character over to India and start the fish out of water story. From then on, it’s not something we address because he’s there doing the job and these characters at work have become a surrogate family for him. I understand some people might see the title and think we’re going to make fun of that but certainly not. We’re very conscious of that.”
According to Borden, future episodes will focus on Todd’s efforts to understand Indian culture. “We have an episode set on a packed Indian train. We go to a Bollywood concert so we’re doing all kind of things over the course of many, many episodes we’ll get to see the all different facets of the characters and of life in India… Around episode twelve Todd hears this beautiful voice coming out of the bathroom then Anisha comes out. We find out that she has this amazing singing voice but she’s only comfortable singing in the privacy of the bathroom. Todd, in that American can do spirit signs her up for a Bollywood singing contest.”
Nagarajan was able to draw from own experiences as an American living in Indian in crafting her portrayal of her bashful character. “I actually lived in India for a year growing up and I went to boarding school there. There was a girl. She was always top of her class, always got the best grades but never really spoke to anybody. But when you asked her any questions about the work she always knew the answers and was very much on top of her game even though she didn’t come across as being very talkative. I relate to her in a lot of ways because I have my moments where I’m in situations where I want to disappear into the wallpaper and not really talk to anybody. I feel everybody has a tendency towards that at some points no matter how outgoing you are.”
Los Angeles newcomer Rappaport also related to his character’s experiences. “In terms of working in television, being in L.A. and working with people I’d never met before it parallels with my life right now. The trip to L.A. is a parallel with the trip to India.”
Though some critics feel the show traffics in stereotypes, the show is notable for having a largely South Asian cast — a group rarely seen in major roles on Amercian television series as little as five years ago. Now actresses like ‘The Office’s‘ Mindy Kaling and ‘The Good Wife’s‘ Archie Panjabi are wildly popular. Nagarajan feels that her ethnicity has not been a detriment to her career. “I’ve been really blessed. I’ve played a lot of different roles that have to do with the fact that I’m Indian and don’t have to do with the fact that I’m Indian.”
She admits that she has taken a new interest in customer service representatives since landing the part. “I did call somebody for my cable recently and the call was transferred to India and I got very excited on the phone and I said, ‘I’m from India. What part of India are you from?’ We started talking because once they saw that my name was Anisha they knew I was from India too ,so it was a fun conversation.”
The cast is thrilled that ‘Outsourced’ is joining NBC’s Thursday night comedy line-up. Said Nagarajan, “ I think we’ve been really blessed with our timeslot. Hopefully the people who watch those shows will either by accident or on purpose watch our show and grow to love it because the characters are very charming and unique and very relatable.”
‘Outsourced’ premieres Thursday night at 9:30 pm ET on NBC.