Shriya Saran, making her Hollywood debut, received a handful of flattering reviews over her Hollywood hunk co-star Jesse Metcalfe. But the film The Other End of the Line received mostly negative reviews. Worse, it was also a box-office disaster.
She could of course gloat over the influential trade publication Variety declaring that the film 'is a winning Stateside debut for beautiful Indian actress Shriya.' But where was the audience for the film?
Even for a low-budget film which reportedly cost $2-$3 million, the weekend gross of $57,000 on 91 screens in North America was more than a disaster. The MGM-distributed film was dead on arrival and would be out of most of the theatres next week. The English language film also played in the desi movie circuit but just a few fans of Shriya, who had admired her in such films as the Tamil mega hit Sivaji, came to see it.
The film centers on Priya Sethi, a call centre worker in Mumbai who falls in love with Granger, a customer in America without ever meeting him. She flies to America impulsively ditching her Indian fiance and sees his dreams challenged at every step.
The film was written by Tracey Jackson, the writer on The Guru starring Jimi Mistry and Heather Graham. Released six years ago that film was also drubbed by major critics but it grossed over $10 million in the United Kingdom and a healthy $3.1 million in North America. The Other End of the Line would be lucky to reach $150,000 in North America.
Many critics in America ignored the film produced by Ashok Amritraj. But those who saw it in Canada and America had hardly anything nice to say about it.
Directed by James Dodson, whose previous film Behind the Enemy Lines II went straight to the DVD, the new film was shot mostly in India, with Indian restaurants and hotels standing for San Francisco and New York facilities.
Dodson had said recently in an interview with Rediff India Abroad that he fell for the Tracey Jackson story because of the universal appeal it could have. The film is more than a story about an Indian falling for an American she had come to know through phone conversation, he said. It was about a young woman taking her life in her own hands, and it was also about an American who learns from his mistakes and tries to discover himself anew, putting his obnoxious life behind him.
But the reviewers and audiences did not share his vision.
Headline writers had a great time playing on the title, The Other Side of the Line. It is 'as exciting as a dial tone; declared a Reuters review. The Toronto Star advised: Hang up and try again. The film 'isn't worth the call,' the headline in Seattle Post Intelligencer announced.
Giving the film two stars out of four, Toronto Star wrote: 'A feather-light romantic comedy that's laborious when it ought to be effervescent; The Other End of the Line is the latest exchange in an awkward conversation between two film industries.
The Indian cast had done better than the Americans, the Toronto Star thought.
'The buffoonish antics by Bollywood veteran Anupam Kher as Priya's flustered father are one of the movie's few saving graces,' it wrote. 'Saran is also sufficiently sprightly. The biggest problem is Metcalfe. Hopelessly wooden and irritatingly smug, he's like Ryan Reynolds minus the edge and the charm, or Joshua Jackson minus everything.'
Seattle Times was reminded of Outsourced, the Ayesha Dharker and Josh Hamilton romantic comedy set in an Indian call centre, which it found to be a far superior cross cultural romance compared to The Other End of the Line.
Outsourced did not do well in American theaters grossing just about $150,000 but it was a solid hit on DVD and in Canada, it is heading for a strong $1 million theatrical gross.
'Shriya Saran does a nimble job of suggesting why her character, the already engaged Priya Sethi, would fall for him (Granger), The Seattle Times wrote.
The twists in the film 'are reminiscent of last year's Seattle-produced comedy, Outsourced, which had a lot more wit and style,' it added.
The new movie was released with hardly any ads in major newspapers; except for TV spots in the Indian media, its release went largely unnoticed.
'A mild cross-cultural romantic comedy dropped into a few theaters by MGM with all the hoopla of a fugitive entering the Witness Protection Program, wrote Frank Scheck in the trade publication The Hollywood Reporter. The film 'has the dramatic impact of a dropped cell phone call.'
The other trade publication Variety was among the few that liked the film.
Though the 'film shoplifts from any number of movie romances, including Pretty Woman, most shamelessly, An Officer and a Gentleman,' it was not without merits.
'As cross-cultural bridge-builders go' Variety summed up, ' pic is smart, funny and sweet enough to make you reassess your attitude next time you get reach tech support in New Delhi.'