The Office India review: Hotstar’s embarrassing remake is an unfunny, unnecessary carbon copy of the American classic
Cast - Mukul Chadda, Gopal Dutt, Sayandeep Sengupta, Samridhi Dewan, Gauahar Khan
Rating - 2/5
It’s a good thing that Hotstar has stopped calling its slate of in-house content ‘Hotstar Originals’, but the replacement, ‘Hotstar Specials’, isn’t ideal either. Because none of the four scripted shows that India’s leading streaming service has commissioned so far has an ounce of originality; and they most certainly aren’t special.
The Office, the latest in a slate that is bizarrely dominated by remakes, has been adapted from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s UK original, but it drinks more shamelessly from the well of the more popular US series. Such is its doe-eyed devotion to the American classic - and it took me about three episodes to realise this - that it can pass off as an unfunny, and frankly unnecessary carbon copy. Ironically, it’s a perfect example of just the sort of workplace subservience that The Office attempts to satirise.
Watch the trailer for The Office here
In addition to fulfilling its contractual obligations to Gervais and Merchant by giving them due credit, every episode of the Indian Office unblinkingly remakes its American counterpart, without a lick of imagination. Confusingly, however, at 13 episodes long, the Indian Office spans the entirety of the first season of the American series, and seven additional episodes from season two, before ending, abruptly and inevitably, without providing any sort of closure. It’s like one of those ‘strategically planned’ intervals at your local multiplex.
As a devoted fan of the American Office - at a conservative estimate, I have seen the series, from beginning to end, at least eight times - watching the Indian remake was a strange experience. The beauty of the US show was that it took a very British premise, and retooled it to suit American sensibilities. While Gervais’ David Brent was an obnoxious little man, Steve Carell’s Michael Scott was infinitely more endearing, an innocent victim of the 21st Century rat race, afraid of being left behind.
And as every fan of the Office would tell you, the first season of the American show is easily the worst, precisely because it insisted on being a shot-for-shot remake of the UK version. The US series found its own voice in subsequent seasons, after it made the wise decision to distance itself from the British show, and chart its own path.
Which makes the Indian Office even more bizarre than it already is. Not only is it a (stunningly unambitious) remake, it is a (stunningly unambitious) remake of the worst stretch of episodes it could possibly have remade. Such is its submissiveness, it doesn’t even make an attempt to erase some of the original’s flaws, which, as many of you would agree, is sort of the point of remakes.
And so, Michael Scott is now Jagdeep Chadda, Scranton has been relocated to Faridabad, Pam is Pammi, the basketball match between the warehouse guys and the office is now a kabaddi match, and the special Halloween episode is a Navratri episode. But most importantly, Michael’s catchphrase - ‘That’s what she said’ - is now ‘Baby bhi yehi boli’.
Even the layout of the set is the same, and some of the talking head interviews are word-for-word recreations. In fact, the most die-hard fans would even notice similar shot structure, and framing. A lot of the US Office’s humour came from creator Greg Daniels and his team’s impeccable understanding of physical comedy and comedic editing. On several occasions, Jim Halpert’s blazed expressions at Dwight Schrute’s antics were more funny than the antics themselves.
It seems as if show runner Rajesh Devraj’s strategy was to simply upload the original scripts onto Google Translate and shoot what the internet told him to. There are, however, a couple of star performers in this corporate jungle. Gopal Dutt’s TP Mishra is the only character who seems to have been workshopped to a degree that he simply isn’t a clone of the original, Dwight. In the Indian series, TP is, essentially, a bhakt. On the weekends, him and his cronies form a Romeo squad and trawl the local parks, looking for young couples to harass. He has a tendency to scold Amit - that’s the Indian Jim - by launching into passionate speeches about ‘bhrashtachar’ and ‘Siachen ke jawaan’.
“Apna agenda apne paas rakh, TP,” Jagdeep tells him on one occasion, after catching him during one of his soliloquies about his Shakha. But TP’s sermons about the benefits of ‘gaumutra’ is easily the most adventurous the Indian Office is willing to get. And unfortunately, the main character, Jagdeep, is basically a WhatsApp uncle - the sort of man you instantly block on every social media app you use.
Remakes aren’t necessarily the problem. God knows how they dominate the industry - both in India and abroad. And certainly, that’s the rationale behind Hotstar’s output. But when a remake exists solely to peddle a popular IP in naive new territories, is when we have a problem. I fail to understand why someone who has access to both the American and the Indian versions of the Office will choose to watch this. The US series was the Last Great Sitcom, in my opinion, and launched the careers of everyone from Carell, to John Krasinski and Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak and Ed Helms. It attracted the biggest Hollywood filmmakers as guest directors - Jason Reitman, Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams, to name a few - who just wanted to be a part of history.
This was such a fabulous opportunity, to tell stories rooted in the realities of the Indian middle class, and to utilise the built-in popularity of the brand to truly take chances. Instead, Gauahar Khan’s icy boss says it best when she reprimands Jagadeep for repeating his ‘Baby bhi yehi boli’ joke one too many times - “That wasn’t funny. And it wasn’t even original”.