The scenario is familiar to most Americans: We phone our credit-card company and realize that the person on the other end is in India. The potential for comedy and/or irritation is always present. But we don’t stop to wonder what curious things might be going on in that call center. Plenty, it turns out, if you believe Indian playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar, who has set Disconnect (getting its U.S. debut through Feb. 24 at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater) at a call center in Chennai, India, where workers specialize in debt collection.
Disconnect, which had its world premiere at London’s Royal Court Theatre, examines how Indians from rural, family-centered, largely gender-segregated communities fare in high-rise, high-pressure call centers, where men and women work side-by-side in cubicles. “Most of these people are from very traditional families, but in the call centers they acquire this Westernized way of thinking, in which it’s all about money and success,” says Ann Filmer, director of the Victory Gardens production. “It’s kind of an Indian version of Glengarry Glen Ross.”
Some of the Indians resort to ruses—fake American accents, pretend knowledge of the Chicago street grid—to develop a rapport with their marks. “They have to forge personal relationships with them,” Filmer says. Ross (New York actor Debargo Sanyal), the office “super-collector,” is the best at forging those relationships, but it gets him into trouble when he develops a romantic connection with one of his female customers, even though his co-worker, Vidia, is obviously in love with him.
“My parents had an arranged marriage, but love marriages are much more common now,” says Mumbai-born Minita Gandhi, the Chicago actress playing Vidia. “At home, these men and women are more formal. There’s a freedom in the workplace that doesn’t exist in their home life. So naturally, things happen.”