Upon leaving the theater I was “hung up” on The Other End of the Line. It was cute and touching, just what is expected in a romantic comedy. This film was different than most romances- it embraced the theme of star-crossed lovers, one in India and the other in America. A young and charming, professional, NYC advertising guy, Granger, begins talking to a young and beautiful Indian woman, Priya, who is assisting him over the phone with his stolen credit card issues. She happens to be in Mumbai but on the job they are trained to speak “American”- he believes she is in San Francisco from her well-practiced accent and random knowledge of things like Mick Jagger and the Whopper. As it so happens, they begin to fall just a little in love over the phone and Priya decides to follow her heart and go meet him in San Francisco when he is sent there on assignment and asks for a casual date. She is just introduced to her family-arranged fiancÃ© (whom she could care less about) when she flies to America, leaving her protective family frantically worried and in utter (comedic) chaos. What follows is a romantic romp through the Golden Gate City, adventures in a five-star hotel and newly blossomed, yet a bit of dishonest love- Granger does not know it is the same girl on the phone who he originally intended to meet. He had instead fallen in love with her real identity, more or less, but tribulations do follow as reality comes into play and Priya’s family has followed her to America!
The actress Shriya Saran is glowing onscreen and the romance between her and Jesse Metcalfe (of Desperate Housewives fame) has a very raw charisma. Actually, as we see them falling in love onscreen it turns out behind the scenes they took a great liking to each other- how romantic! I spoke with The Other End of The Line director James Dodson about his vision, working with Shriya & Jesse, India, and how this love story is simply universal.
Director James Dodson
ASIANCE: What is the inspiration for the film?
James Dodson: Of course, it was brought to me by the writer Tracy Jackson. It was to show these two different cultures and how they collide. What we were really trying to do was break clichÃ©s. The trouble with clichÃ©s are that there are so many that actually show a social custom, for example a young woman working in a call center might be considered a clichÃ© but it might be true. An American teenager watching MTV might be a clichÃ© but it actually is true, they do watch MTV.
ASIANCE: So how did you personally become involved?
James Dodson: I had known and we had been talking about working together for half a year and working on this project. And we had been talking about another project suddenly this happened; Jess Metcalf was available, the financing was in place, it suddenly became a good picture and we jumped on it. So he called me and said, “Can you go to Mumbai next Thursday?” So we did, we went over there, scouted, came back, worked on the script a little more, came back and prepped for another couple months and then shot.
ASIANCE: Can you talk about Shriya, she is such a beauty on screen. Did she get along with Jesse?
James Dodson: She’s a dream. They’re both a dream together and they got along great. That was just so important that they got along on set and off. And Jesse is such a professional- he has such preparation. His script is just covered with notes on every page. And he is constantly preparing about what he should wear and how to do the scene. So he’s just big on preparation, and getting it right, showing up and looking perfect. His character has to be perfect you know, he’s a driven and ambitious guy. Jess embraced that characteristic and ran with it. Shriya is just a dream. She’s as nice on-screen as she appears to be off-screen. She’s gracious, nice, positive, and incredibly professional. She’s a very hard-working actress and always seems to be in demand. Her schedule is so tight. She had just finished the movie then went to Turkey practically the next day for another movie. She’s very talented.
ASIANCE: Do you see more films of this theme in the future in our global society?
James Dodson: I don’t think this movie was scientifically engineered to be a cross-cultural thing. It’s just where it came from. It’s based on this cultural phenomenon of outsourcing. How a guy can be talking to a woman on the phone, thinking he is talking to her in San Fran but she is really in Mumbai, India, and when you put two human beings together there is that possibility of romance. So do I think there will be more like this? I can’t imagine why not! The world is becoming more and more interconnected.
ASIANCE: The film has such a good-feeling comedy to it. How did you capture that?
James Dodson: My particular preference in comedy is to keep it as real as possible. I think we pushed a little further than some other comedy because he has those comedic chops and can get away with it, I think. Not every actor can get away with pushing it as hard as he did. He brought that comedic timing, to set up a joke, play it off with reaction shots. Jesse’s comedy is more subtle, a guy at an ad agency with angst, his is situational, romantic, you know.
There are arranged marriages that happen quite a bit, but it’s not so arbitrary where the woman doesn’t know what’s happening… I think it happens so much from their perspective that it’s almost a clichÃ©.
ASIANCE: How did you spend your time offset in Mumbai? What was it like?
James Dodson: Tara Sharma got married and she’s quite a personality over there so it was a huge wedding. And all the cast and crew in Mumbai at this four-day wedding, it just doesn’t happen very often! It was spectacular. It’s just shooting like any film crew in the world. Shoot together, go to a bar, buy each other drinks, get up at five in the morning and start all over again.
ASIANCE: In the film Priya confesses she does not want to marry her arranged fiancÃ©. She is in love with Granger and has found her true self. Do you think this happens often with arranged marriages, that they may confess to their doubts or not go through with it?
James Dodson: That’s a question I was asking a lot over there. How many arranged marriages still happen. There are arranged marriages that happen quite a bit, but it’s not so arbitrary where the woman doesn’t know what’s happening… I think it happens so much from their perspective that it’s almost a clichÃ©. So our question is how to put it in a film so it’s not so clichÃ©. And my remedy was to make this family feel real and not stereotypical. Showing the middle class in Mumbai, and the city has this thriving middle-class, was the best way to do it. To make the family as real as possible and be like, “by the way, they don’t live that much different from an American middle-class family.” And that was the surprising thing from my perspective, India’s middle-class, the boy wanting to watch so much television, the girl is in love with the pretty boy and the father doesn’t like who the girl likes and that’s not an American story or Indian story. It’s a family story wherever you are.
ASIANCE: There is a scene where Granger, the young New York professional confesses to Priya that it is his first time ever eating Indian food. Do you think this is believable, in New York? I think also it added well-placed conflict to the film, those polar opposites being attracted…
James Dodson: That’s a good question! (Laughs) I have a friend growing up who is such a meat and potatoes guy. He’s never eaten Indian food, never been to a Thai restaurant, he’s just that kind of guy. So I think it’s pretty believable. The character’s not a well-traveled, exotic locale kind of guy, he’s “meat and potatoes”.
ASIANCE: And where can we see your work next?
James Dodson: I just finished adapting the feature film “Thank You for Smoking” into a television series for USA network. And I was just hired by NBC Universal television to write an hour-long dramedy based on the book “E” by Max Beaumont. It takes place in the world of advertising.
ASIANCE: Thanks a lot!
James Dodson: Cool! Thank you I appreciate your questions. Have a good day!
Actress Shriya Saran
Actress Shriya Saran is one of the top actresses in India. Shriya started her movie acting career with the Telugu film Ishtam (2001), produced by Usha Kiran Movies. This first film didn’t fare too well at the box office, but she was noticed by many Telugu producers and directors. Soon she signed for Nagarjuna’s Santosham (2002), which was a major hit and she didn’t have to turn back since then. She was very lucky to get the most coveted chance to act opposite none other than Chiranjeevi at a very early point in her career. After the huge success of Tagore she became one of the top actresses of the south Indian film industry. Her later movies, such as Nuvve Nuvve and Bhageeratha, earned her many accolades. She had one of the biggest hits in her career with Chatrapati opposite Prabhas. Shriya is the fourth actor, after Kushboo, Shilpa Shetty and Reema Sen to face the fire of political parties and organizations recently. Shriya then issued an apology for “wearing inappropriate skimpy attire”.
ASIANCE: What was it like to be in a romantic comedy coming out in America? Will you want to act in Hollywood in the future?
Shriya: It was a wonderful experience…. yes it would be lovely to be part of many more Hollywood films. As an actor, I feel that it will be a good opportunity to grow and expand my horizons. The more you work in different kinds of films the more you learn.
ASIANCE: You look great onscreen! What are some of your secrets?
Shriya: Thanks. I just love what I do.
ASIANCE: You got along well with Jesse Metcalfe onscreen and off. Do you think it is easy to capture romantic chemistry on camera if you like each other in person? Or is it more difficult?
Shriya: Jesse is a wonderful guy and a fantastic actor. I enjoyed taking the journey of being Priya and understanding granger with him. It’s easy to work with people one gets along well with.
ASIANCE: How do you spend your time in India when you are not shooting? Do you spend time with family in your hometown?
Shriya: I love to dance. I’m a trained Kathak dancer. I have learned it from Guru Shovana Narayan. So I dance, do yoga. I love reading, traveling, meeting people, swimming… basically chilling.
ASIANCE: What is your next project?
Shriya: My next film is called What’s Cooking? It’s written by my favorite director Deepa Mehta and directed by Dilip Mehta. Also, ‘m doing a film with Kamala Hassan.