We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
As comedians such as Albert Brooks have noticed, it’s funny that residents of Delhi and Bangalore are answering phone calls for American companies. Yet the laughs are few and mostly uneasy in John and Jane Toll-Free, Ashim Ahluwalia’s fascinating documentary about the phenomenon. Aside from being head-spinningly weird—much of the action transpires in areas of suburban Bombay that resemble a cross between Las Vegas and Alphaville—the film is unexpectedly poignant. Bewitched by visions of the promised land of affluence, the call-center employees assume names such as Sydney or Nikki, scrutinize Bloomingdale’s catalogs, attend megachurch-style Christian services, eat paneer salsa wraps at McDonald’s, and aspire to the billionaire “lifestyle.” Meanwhile, the people on the other end of the line are rude, angry, broke, and sometimes desperately lonely. Yet for Sydney and Nikki, the idea of America is so potent that it obscures any hints of the reality. The film shows at 8 p.m. at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Ring Auditorium, 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark Jenkins)