Behind the scenes, where there’s drama, there’s comedy: Anupama Chopra on Call My Agent!
The French series satirised celebrity, laid bare all the backstabbing in service of the art. It will be missed, says Chopra.
In the last few minutes of the last episode of the last season of the French television series Call My Agent!, the various agents at ASK, a top talent firm in Paris, are having a farewell drink. Andréa (played by breakout star Camille Cottin) jokes that she could perhaps “write a series about talent agents”. To which Mathias (her erstwhile rival and frenemy, played by a terrific Thibault de Montalembert) replies, “Who is going to watch that?”
As it turns out, everyone. The 4-season, 24-episodes series — which was called Dix Pour Cent (Ten Per Cent) in France, for the 10% commission that agents make — became a worldwide success after it was taken to global audiences by Netflix.
Creator Fanny Herrero, the writers and directors whipped up an irresistible concoction: industrial-strength wit and charm, swoony visuals of Paris (which seem even more alluring in a pandemic) and an insider view of showbiz. The narrative arcs followed the tantrums and insecurities of artists and the machinations required to keep them afloat, as well as the messy personal lives of the agents (affairs, minimal work-life balance, a drunk ménage à trois that leads to a baby).
An added attraction were the guest appearances by French cinema’s A-listers, most of whom play versions of themselves. Monica Bellucci popped up in Season 3, satirising her status as a sex symbol. Legendary workaholic Isabelle Huppert was double-booked and had to find a way to shoot for two films in one night.
The drama ranges from profound to pure soap opera but all of it is soaked in a deep-rooted love for the movies. The agents scheme and backstab in service of the art. In the last episode of Season 1, when it seems that the agency is on the verge of collapse, Andréa and Arlette (the wise veteran) are walking on a bridge at night. Arlette suggests they watch a movie. Andréa says that it’s been years since she watched a movie outside of work, just for pleasure. And Arlette replies: “When things are getting you down, there’s always the movies.” The scene was so beautiful it left me misty-eyed. As did the end of the series. I wanted these characters in my life for a little longer.
The good news is that a version of them will be on screens again, sometime in the near future. An Indian version is being produced by Applause Entertainment (the folks who brought us the brilliant Scam 1992) and Banijay Asia, directed by Shaad Ali. I’m curious to see how Call My Agent! will translate locally because agencies are a recent phenomenon. Traditionally, stars were handled by individual managers , then called secretaries , who had both colour and clout.
One of my favourite memories from the ’90s is of the secretary of an A-list heroine calling and introduced himself with the honorific ‘ji’ — as in, “Main X ji bol raha hoon.” They were incomparable hustlers who, all said and done, kept relationships in place in a chaotic business.
All that has changed. Teams of professionals now oversee the contracts, scoring opportunities and scaling up of a star’s brand. It’s far more organised, but also clinical. I think some of the romance has evaporated. I hope the desi Call My Agent! rekindles it. Because that’s exactly what the French series did for me. It made me delight in the magic , and the messiness ,of the movies.