"I used to call up friends from an unknown number and offer them loans" - Gul Panag

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By Nikhil Ramsubramaniam, Bollywood Hungama News Network

Sharman Joshi and Gul Panag play call centre employees in their latest film Hello. Surely they must have learnt a thing or two about what was termed as India's Sunshine Industry a few years back. In the film, they receive a call from God which changes their lives forever. However, this call from Bollywood Hungama proved to be a much lighter and fun-filled experience for the duo. Instead of the usual, run-of-the-mill Q-n-A session, we decided to do a conference call with Sharman and Gul and got to know their views on the culture at call centres, their take on relationships and much more.

In Hello, both of you work in a call centre. Tell us something about your characters?
Sharman: - I play the character of Shyam Mehra. He is from a middle-class background, is ambitious when it comes to his career but still hesitates from taking chances when it comes to his professional life.
Gul: - I play the character of Priyanka, who is extremely attractive, very glamorous but has lots of shades of grey in her character. She has done what most modern, urban girls would do. She has chosen not to marry the guy she loves but to marry a well-settled NRI in America just because her mother says its better for her future.

What's the best part of working in a call centre?
Sharman: - I would imagine the pay packet that these guys have is quite fabulous (laughs)
Gul: - I think the fact that you get to spend time with so many people of your own age group. No other job profile allows you to do that.

And what's the worst part?
Sharman: - The working hours.
Gul: -I agree it has to be the working hours. It's terrible to leave home at 7 in the evening and come home at 7 in the morning

Are you part of the inbound team or the outbound team?
Sharman: - I am part of the inbound team. We receive calls.
Gul: - My character does both, receive and make calls (smiles)

So how many calls did you guys have to make / receive in a day?
Sharman: - Well anything from 200 to 500 in a day.
Gul: - Our average call volumes were in the range of 150 - 170 calls.

Did you make any mock calls to get into the character? Any special training which you guys undertook to know how call centre employees work.
Sharman: - Not really but I did visit a call centre to get the feel of the place and their working style. Besides that, I also had an accent trainer (who works at a call centre) come home and conduct a workshop on accent training with me for a few days.
Gul: - I used to call up a lot of my friends from an unknown number and would offer them loans/ insurance policies in a typical polite way (laughs)

People often get irritated & annoyed when they receive calls from call centres asking them for credit card/ personal loan/ new mobile connection etc. How do you respond to such calls in your day-to-day life? Has your perception towards call centre employees and telemarketers changed after working on Hello?
Sharman: - Well…a lot depends on the approach in which the call centre employees are making the call. Some guys are good at their work while others are not that good. I believe as long as they do not encroach upon my personal space, I don't mind hearing them out. At times when they push the limits too far, it gets a bit annoying.
Gul: - I do get annoyed at times when I get calls disturbing my privacy especially when I am shooting abroad and am on international roaming. However, working on this film has taught me that one should always be a little patient with telemarketing calls which one receives because people at the other end of the phone are also human beings.

You guys spent one night at a call centre…what else happens in a Call Centre apart from the work?
Sharman: - Hmmm…in the film a lot happens (laughs). I won't know what happens in an actual call centre as I have visited it just once.
Gul: - Yeah in the film, we had a systems failure that night. Our transmission lines were giving us trouble so we all went down to get a drink.

What else do people do in a call centre to pass time?
Sharman: - There isn't much time but usually the break time is spent at the canteen drinking coffee and striking a conversation with fellow colleagues.
Gul: - As Sharman said, you hardly have any free time. You are taking calls 95% of your time. Every hour or two you have a break for 5 minutes to make a quick visit to the loo or sip a coffee but beyond that there ain't much free time.

How do you deal with irate customers?
Sharman: - Actually there is a scene in the film where Sohail receives such a call and doesn't take it too kindly. My character however understands that it's part of the job and has to be taken care of in the right way. However, you don't need to take rubbish from callers beyond a certain point of time. If someone is just going all out and abusing you, you can probably hang up
Gul: - I completely agree with Sharman, there is a point beyond which you don't have to take their calls if they are being extremely unreasonable.

Call Centres is also a place for a lot of budding romance. In the film the two of you share some special moments together. Tell us something about that.
Gul: - Yeah like when I told you there are young people who spend so much time together, some sparks are bound to fly. As for our relationship in the film, the film begins with us not being together because I have already chosen to marry the well settled NRI.

What's your take on one night stands, which is quite common in the call centre culture?
Gul: - I don't think it's fair to say that one night stands is quite common in a call centre culture. All I can say is whether you are committed to a relationship or not, as long as you practice safe sex its fine.
Sharman: - It's not that casual for me. I find it a little frivolous

Gul: - I don't think it's fair to say that one night stands is quite common in a call centre culture.
What's the most important thing that you expect from your partner in a relationship?
Sharman: - Trust
Gul: - A good level of understanding. It's very important to be practical about these things. It's good if you love somebody but you should also see if the person you are going to marry has the physical, mental, emotional and financial stability to manage a family.

In real life, how far would you go to get the girl you love?
Sharman: - To any extent…I have done some crazy things too (laughs)

What is the best thing you have done to woo the girl you love?
Sharman: - I have been very patient and given a lot of time to our relationship to culminate into marriage.

Tell us something about your first date?
Sharman: - It's been a long time back. My first date was at Rock Around the Clock, a night club which no longer exists.
Gul: - I can't remember it was too long ago…must have been at a grill place

Which has been your most forgetful / bizarre date?
Sharman: - There haven't been many as Prerna (my wife) is only the second girl I have dated.
Gul: - I don't really go on random dates so I don't think I have had such an experience

There has been a lot of debate on whether Call Centres are a boon or a bane. What's your take on that?
Sharman: - I think it's a boon for sure. As long as the youngsters in the country are getting employed and making money, what's the harm? There are of course some negatives, which go around with call centres, but those are things which can be controlled.
Gul: - In the short term, it's a definitely a boon but in the long run it doesn't do much for our Human Resource Quotient. If people are just going to be content with answering phone calls, the quality of Human Resources does take a beating. Companies that are outsourcing their businesses to India are actually giving better level jobs to people in their own countries while the low level jobs are being given to us here.

My last question, you get a call from GOD in the film….If in case, you do get a call from GOD and he grants you 3 wishes…what would you ask for?
Sharman: - I would ask him to give me strength to live my life to the fullest, make sure my family and friends are happy and the last wish I would leave it up to him to see what he feels is best for me.
Gul: - Well… the first wish would be that people should really enjoy watching Hello, my second wish would be to completely eradicate all forms of suffering from this planet and the third wish would be asking for Good Health.

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