Award-winning film "Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night" recently screened at the American Natural History Museum as part of the 29th Annual Margaret Mead Film Festival last month (Nov. 2005) "Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night" is a documenatry on outsourcing of American jobs to India. Told from the perspective of an Indian immigrant living in the U.S., the film offers a unique point of view as it journeys into India's call centers. A film by Sonali Gulati, an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond VA, Gulati teaches film production and experimental filmmaking. A graduate from Mount Holyoke College and Temple University, Gulati develops a new language and style in the genre of documentary filmmaking. She breaks conventions of editing by including footage one would normally leave out of the film. She makes the filmmaking process transparent as she makes her presence felt in the film, even if she's behind the camera--showing us the performative aspect of her subjects. If you see this film, you'll know why she's a filmmaker to watch out for.
I started with the most obvious question of how it all began. Gulati says, "This was 3 years ago when one didn't know much about outsourcing of telemarketing jobs. I found myself WANTING to talk to Harry (a telemarketer calling her from New Delhi-- the city where she grew up). She was surprised that he got her name right and was calling her from across the Atlantic. And like most of Gulati's work, this too is personal or autobiographical in nature structured as a diary/travelog film.
This phone call by Harry intrigued Gulati so much that she decided to take a trip back home in 2003 to enter the world of call centers and language institutes where telemarketers acquire American names and accents to service the telephone-support industry of the U.S. Says Gulati, "It was an eye-opening experience for me and made me question my preconceptions. I really thought I was going to experience walking into a sweatshop-like environment". But it was not just a phone call from a telemarketer that made her pack her bags. Instead it was her position (in terms of identity and geography) in relation to her subjects that made her pick up the camera. She sums it up beautifully in the film when she says, "Here I was, an Indian living in America with an Indian name and accent, seeing other Indians living in India with American names and accents. Ironically, we were all living as per Eastern Standard Time".
Gulati's film description on the back of the DVD reads aptly as: "The film incorporates animation, live action, and archival footage to explore the complexities of globalization, capitalism, and identity." And she does this through a well-crafted and cleverly structured narrative. Clearly she is a talented filmmaker and the acceptance of her film to a sold-out audience or should I say "House Full" show at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York city vouches just that. The Margaret Mead Film Festival is the longest-running showcase for international documentaries in the United States. The Festival is distinguished by its outstanding selection of titles, which tackle diverse and challenging subjects, representing a range of issues and perspectives, and this year marks the festival's 29th year running.
"Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night" in my opinion is definitely a documentary worth watching. It is a serious film at its core unfolding itself with wit and humor on a subject of global importance that will keep you laughing all the way home and thinking therafter.
NOTE: The film is screening at the South Asian International Film Festival at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York city on Thursday December 8th 2005 at 9pm.
-- Maya Kulkarni ([20 Dec 2005)
Film description: A documentary on the outsourcing and off-shoring of American jobs to India as told from the perspective of an Indian immigrant living in the United States.