Hollywood to script outsourcing saga


WASHINGTON: And now here comes Outsourcing, the movie. Don't forget the comma in that previous sentence.

Hollywood will take stab at the practice of outsourcing to India as seen through the eyes of an American writer. Universal Pictures has just bought the film rights to an Esquire article titled "My Outsourced Life" by A.J.Jacobs, a scribe whose off the wall feats include reading the 33-volume, 44-million word Encylopoedia Britannica end-to-end.

"Jacobs, Esquire's editor-at-large, wrote the outsourcing article after he discovered that he could farm out almost everything in his life to India, from ordering his food to fighting with his wife.

"I got the idea while reading Tom Friedman's The World is Flat," he explained in an interview to this correspondent on Wednesday.

"I divided up my work life and home life and sent out the tasks to two Bangalore-based companies. It was just wonderful."

Jacobs' aides in this outsourcing saga were Honey K.Balani of the firm Brickworks, who handled his professional needs such as fixing appointments and researching for his articles, and Asha of Your Man in India (YMII), who handled personal tasks.

To begin with they answered his e-mails, fixed his appointments, ordered his groceries and bought his movie tickets, Jacobs said.

By the end of the month-long exercise, they were making weekly calls to his parents and reading his son bedtime stories. Honey Balani was even giving him story ideas for Esquire.

In one particularly capricious episode, Jacobs, after a domestic quarrel, outsourced a complaint against his wife to Asha.

Asha e-mails Julie on behalf of Jacobs: "Julie, I do understand your anger that I forgot to pick up the cash at the ATM.

I have been forgetful and I am sorry about that, but it does not change the fact that I love you very much." Asha also sends Julie an e-card with hugging teddy bears.

How does Julie feel about this? "I thought it was totally pathetic. AJ, who does not like confrontation whatsoever, was now using a woman 4,000 miles away to handle my confrontation skills," she told ABC's Good Morning America, forgetting that she too could have outsourced her gripe against Jacobs to India.

"I thought Asha was more diplomatic than I could be," Jacobs told Times News Network.

The result of all these outsourcing escapades is a hilarious piece in the September issue of Esquire that is now being made into a movie. Unfortunately for Bangalore -- and Bollywood -- the making of the movie itself is not being outsourced, although this correspondent could do the screenplay at cut-rate prices.

The comedy will be sized up for Universal by Jay Roach, who directed and co-wrote such blockbuster hits as Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers.

Jacobs is the author of "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World," a chronicle of his reading the entire 44-million word Britannica and his resultant mastery over trivia. That story is also being made into a movie by Barry Sonnenfeld, who made Men in Black.

(Asked what trivia he could recall about India from his encyclopediac excursions, Jacobs said it was the first country to do cosmetic surgery; noses cut off as punishments were often replaced with grafting from cheek in ancient India.)

Earlier this year, Jacobs also sold to Paramount Pictures a story called "The Year of Living Biblically," in which he spends a year living by the literal rules of the Old and New Testament. He begins that ordeal next week.

Jacobs is not the first write to treat the outsourcing issue in a funny vein. Humorist Dave Barry and cartoonist Scott Adams of Dilbert fame, among others, have picked on the topic and made Americans laugh with spoofs about everything from the functioning of the US Congress to the working of the White House being outsourced to India.

But the Jacobs saga will be the first to make it to celluloid outside minor sketches and skits.

The Economic Times, AUGUST 19, 2005