While watching the American version of The Office, I have often wondered how Greg Daniels managed to adapt a hit TV show and still create such iconic characters that have become a cult phenomenon. Wasn’t there that ‘whatchamacallit curse’ which created convoluted, lesser versions of great originals when repackaged for a different audience ? Although Daniels came from a long history of writing for shows like Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, it must have taken him a fair bit of straggling with the NBC top-brass to fund a concept that could very well be called “the new Seinfeld”, a show that was basically about a group of ordinary nine-to-fivers working in an office with a quixotic boss who was trying to “behave” like a run-of-the-mill manager. Wait, isn’t that like every single office in the world ? Absolutely ! And yet, you are invested into the lives of the employees of Dunder Mifflin.
A lot of the success of the show(s) can be attributed to the mockumentary concept that Ricky Gervais co-wrote along with Stephen Merchant for the original British version. The show did not want to tell comic stories in every episode with the same set of characters like a lot of sketches do. What sets it apart is the gaze that Gervais and Merchant use. They don’t see the office as a stage where every story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Instead they take the essence of the different kinds of characters that you would see in your office and put them together into a small space. The very things that make you hate your office are subverted into comedy when you become a spectator (through the eyes of a fictitious “documentary crew”) who can relate closely to those characters. The very boss who acted like an arse-hole for demanding unreasonable things of you, suddenly became a hilarious goof who didn’t understand what he wanted and was constantly seeking validation from his employees. Basically, it’s funny when you aren’t at the receiving end.
The closest counterpart to the show that we have had in India has to be Sri Adhikari Brothers’ Office Office that followed a common man aka Mussadilal (played by Pankaj Kapoor) who navigated the corruption and bribery that is rampant in government offices.
The closest counterpart to the show that we have had in India has to be Sri Adhikari Brothers’ Office Office that followed a common man aka Mussadilal (played by Pankaj Kapoor) who navigated the corruption and bribery that is rampant in government offices. Coming from the 90s era of “babu-raj” where one had to wet the hands of self-proclaimed Babus (slang for, big sir) to get things done, the show struck a chord with the viewers and remains a fan-favourite even to this day. The Office picks up Gervais’s template as-is and transports it to a small town outside Delhi into the office of Wilkins-Chawla, a paper supply company, headed by the Branch Manager Jagdeep Chaddha (played by Mukul Chadda). Chadda is for all, intents and purposes, a faithful representation of Steve Carell’s awkward confidence, who is eternally insecure about his image among his employees. For the Assistant to the Branch Manager Dwight Schrute we have T. P. Mishra (played by Gopal Datt), a Hindu Idealist who is obsessed with people having sambhog (sexual intercourse) with each other, and is a part of a fringe-group that beats up random couples in parks, in his free time. He also sees himself as the inevitable heir-in-line to the Branch Manager’s post and is constantly corrected by Chaddha as “Branch Manager ka Assistant” (Assistant to the Branch Manager). Then there is Mishra’s smart, overachieving sales rival and resident prankster Amit (played by newcomer Sayandeep Sengupta) who is Jim Halpert’s Indian counterpart. Amit is friends with Pammi (played by newcomer Samridhi Dewan) who is the receptionist and is engaged to one of the burly warehouse-workers with a Haryanvi accent, which I guess is the Indian equivalent of a redneck. You get the picture. Every single character from the original has an Indianized counterpart who has his/her own quirks.
Through Chaddha’s Punjabi “Funjabi” effervescence and Mishra’s strong “sanskari” character, you get a semblance that is an Indian office and yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel like one.
Despite my initial skepticism, I goaded myself along, curious about how the adaptation would turn out and how the writers would deal with the cultural gap. Once you get past the first few episodes, the characters do start warming up to you. To be fair, a big obstacle to me accepting the new characters is the very fact the American counterparts were so great. They had the advantage of selling the concept to me first. Once you are invested in those faces, it’s hard to go back and re-learn who’s who. Even though the show is about their personalities, there would always be discernible differences that would stand out. Keeping the superficial differences aside, this new version (as I keep calling it as if it were something alien) tries hard to emulate the original while also trying to introduce a Delhi vibe. Through Chaddha’s Punjabi “Funjabi” effervescence and Mishra’s strong “sanskari” character, you get a semblance that is an Indian office and yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel like one. A far more accurate portrayal of a sales office was shown in Shimit Amin’s highly underrated Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. In comparison, the environs of Wilkins-Chawla feel gentrified and tame. There is nothing inherently wrong with this representation. Some of you may perfectly relate to it and find it funny, but I am sure those of you who do would have not seen the American or the British versions of the show. Having said that, this may still be too early to judge the show. The performances in Season 1 are top-notch and I can totally get behind the new characters given time. Mukul Chadda and Gopal Datt have fantastic screen presence and bring out their character quirks beautifully.
If you love the American/British versions of the show, I would suggest you give this one a try. It is going to be really hard for the first few episodes but it doesn’t take long to start believing in the characters and in their motivations. Fingers crossed.