IWMBuzz reviews The Office

The Office – Decidedly Indian, decidedly relatable and as hilarious as ever

Remakes of wildly-adored cult shows are always a risky proposition. The chance that the remake will fall flat on its face in the most spectacular fashion forever looms on the horizon for the guys who take the risk of treading down the remake path.

Yet, despite the inherent risk, remakes of popular shows and movies are the norm across the world.

Once commissioned, most remakes fall into two categories – the ‘bah, humbug!’ category and the ‘hmmm, now this is something we gotta see’ category.

Hotstar’s The Office, the official remake of the cult British and American show also called The Office, falls into the latter category, if you please.

For those of you not in the know, The Office is one of the most adored shows ever to grace TV screens in the US of A. The US version itself was an official adaptation of the British original. The US version, however, stole a march over the British one, both in popularity, as well as in run time. BBC’s The Office ran for just 14 episodes over two seasons, and the American version, NBC’s The Office, ran for 201 episodes over nine seasons.

Although numerous polls conducted over the years have decreed the UK version as better, purists will have us believe just the opposite. For these die-hard The Office fans, it is the more endearing US version that they worship with their last breath. While the jury is still out on that one, into the milieu lands the official Indian adaptation of the cherished sitcom.

And the release of the Indian The Office has put millennial Twitter into a raging boil. 20-somethings are up in arms over what they perceive to be a blatant botch-up of their beloved sitcom. Even a cursory glance at social media will tell you how outraged Indian fans of the US show are at the supposed transgression.
The show has been produced by Applause Entertainment, adapted for Hotstar by Rajesh Devraj and directed by Rohan Sippy, Debbie Rao and Vivek Bhushan. The first season of the Indian series comprises of 13 episodes, straddling Season 1 and Season 2 of the US version.

For those who’ve never watched either versions of The Office before, ignorance is bliss, and they can enjoy the shenanigans of Jagdeep Chaddha (the Indian Michael Scott), T P Mishra (the remake’s Dwight Schrute), Pammi (Pam), Amit (Jim) and the rest of the blokes at Wilkins Chawla Paper Company (the Indian version of Dunder Mifflin).

But for stick-in-the-mud fans of the show who are outraging over the remake, they consider it as pure blasphemy committed by Hotstar. And to think that these are the very same people who happily lap up remakes of 24, Mind Your Language, Everybody Loves Raymond, Grey’s Anatomy and others, besides remakes of scores of Hollywood flicks.
Wilkins Chawla is a paper company, whose Faridabad branch is headed by regional manager, Jagdeep Chaddha. Chaddha calls himself CFO of the company – Chief Fun Officer. He is given to cracking crass racist jokes at the expense of his junior colleagues, is boisterousness and nurses a delusional superiority complex. In other words, he is an out and out narcissist.

His colleagues bear with his obnoxiousness and innumerable idiosyncrasies with an air of resigned nonchalance and studied indifference.

The show has been shot in the form of a mockumentary, an interesting cinematic device that keeps us engaged and entertained. There are rumours of downsizing floating in the office, and the onus to boost the morale of the dejected employees rests solely on Chaddha; or so he thinks. How he goes about it is what lends the show its initial hilarity.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter – is the Indian remake of The Office really as bad as Twitterati has made it out to be?

We don’t think so.

The first thing we found outstanding about the show is the way the writers have Indianized the jokes and gags. It makes for instant relatability. Most, if not all, of the jokes are quintessentially Indian, set in a desi background. And we all know that relatability is practically the God particle of great content.

After all, how many of us can actually get the essential gist of all those Black and Mexican jokes that the US version is replete with? But crack similar gags with Madrasis, Marwaris, Parsis, Sardarjis, and yes, even Muslims, and you have us guffawing like crazy.

For instance, we’ll be the first to admit that we found the Chris Rock sequence in the original Diversity Day episode only mildly assuming. But Jagdeep Chaddha’s Tamilian take of the same gag was over-the-top comical. The show brims with sparkling interludes of similar ilk, the kind you’ll get straightaway, without, errr, Googling the context of some of them, like in the original.

Likewise, T P Mishra’s overly nationalistic jokes – declaring Amit anti-national in one, pleading excuses such as “our soldiers dying on the borders”, announcing “na khaoonga, na khane doonga”, all strike home instantaneously, provoking a good laugh.

Yes, this version of The Office is decidedly Indian, decidedly relatable and still as hilarious as ever.

Next, the casting of the show is brilliant. Mukul Chaddha, who plays Jagdeep Chaddha, regional manager of Wilkins Chawla, is no Steve Carrell. But he is eminently persuasive in his rendering of the obnoxious, politically-incorrect, bumbling boss. Agreed, Chaddha isn’t quite as convincing in the first episode. In fact, his portrayal is just that wee bit over the top, the kind that separates the banal from the brilliant.

As the series progresses, however, Mukul Chaddha comes into his own, and quite dramatically at that. From the second episode onwards, he is exceptional, to say the least. He gets the jokes and gags right, his comic timing is impeccable, and there are several moments when he has us laughing as crazily as a hyena in heat.

Take the episode, Anekta Diwas, for instance, which is Diversity Day in the US version. Chadhha’s impersonation of a Madrasi is hilarious and had us ROFL. Likewise is his riling of the north-eastern guy, with some shocking ‘chinky’ jokes – it was outrageously funny. The sequence where he reads out the birthday wishes he’s written for Sarlaji (Preeti Kochar), in another episode, is another guffaw-worthy scene.

The series is peppered with numerous Chaddha foot-in-the-mouth moments – such as when he sees Saleem with his wife and sisters, and says in all innocence, “oh, you’ve come with your harem”. Yes, it is an outrageously politically-incorrect joke, but it makes you laugh out loud nevertheless.

The rest of the cast is superb too. Gopal Datt is fantastic as T P Mishra, the Indian version of Dwight, and his interactions with both Amit (Sayandeep Sengupta, the Indian Jim) and Chaddha are a delicious tango of guile and gullibility. He’s deviously sly with the former and delightfully deferential with the latter.

Gauahar Khan is perfectly cast as Riya, Chaddha’s boss at the HO, while Samridhi Dewan is suitably reticent and consigned to fate as Pammi (Pam in the US version). Gavin Methalaka as the burger-chomping Kutty, Priyanka Trehan as the uptight Anjali, Abhinav Sharma as the cool intern, Sapan, and all the others in a humongous cast, are pretty much clued in to what is expected of them, and they deliver it with flawless precision.

The US version had a host of cameos, and the Indian homage to its western counterpart is not far behind. The cameo by Ranvir Shorey as a cunning sales guy is a riot.

To sum it up succinctly, though the Indian take of The Office is a blow-by-blow, gag-for-gag, scene-for-scene reproduction of the US version, its essential Indianness makes it a fun watch on all counts. The familiar setting makes it feel more personal and closer to the heart and mind.
Also, what really works is that the writers have retained the original racism-laden, politically-incorrect nature of the show, without which it wouldn’t be half as funny.

Yes, times have changed from when the show first made its appearance, and the world has moved on to a milieu where everything must be weighed on the scale of political correctness before being put out into the public domain. Except if you’re Donald Trump, of course.

Its characteristic racist, politically incorrect boisterousness is also the reason why it became imperative for the remake to be screened in the digital space – the integral lack of censorship in the digital realm allows all sorts to find their place under the spotlight.

Though the initial episode of The Office is a bit slow to take off, the show and its cast settle into a comfortable rhythm as it progresses, growing on you almost hypnotically. It has all the makings of developing a cult status of its own once the dust settles.

And one more thing – even the first season of the US The Office was a bit sloppy and rough around the edges. But it soon picked up steam and we all know how it went after that. Hotstar’s The Office has lots going for it – it’s funny, it’s fast and it’s fun. Let’s cut it some slack, shall we, before drawing out the swords.

In the meanwhile, 3/5 is our rating for the current season of The Office.

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