1 Star (out of 4)
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Basmati Blues is as problematic as its trailer makes it out to be, and it’s also just plain weird.
The weirdness reveals itself early, when Brie Larson — who filmed this before she was a household name — starts singing while watering plants and wearing a lab coat. Basmati Blues is supposedly an homage to Bollywood films, but the on-the-nose lyrics make it more akin to Western musical theater.
Larson’s character, Linda, is the scientist behind a super productive new strain of rice developed on behalf of Mogil, the agribusiness conglomerate she works for. Mogil’s CEO, Mr. Gurgon (Donald Sutherland), sends her to India to convince farmers to ditch their current rice in favor of the new strain she’s developed.
Upon setting foot in the country, Linda ticks off boxes on the checklist of Things That White People in Movies Find Surprising About India: It’s crowded! ✓ A stranger is carrying my luggage! ✓ There’s a cow in the road! ✓ People eat with their hands! ✓ That coconut is on fire! ✓
This is a “Bollywood” movie by white people, for white people. Producer Monique Caulfield — who is married to the film’s writer-director Dan Baron — told Vulture: “the film is made for the Western audience.” Yet they don’t credit their Western audience with the ability to conceptualize India outside of a very narrow, stereotypical focus.
The trailer for Basmati Blues was criticized for its white savior narrative. Linda is indeed a white savior, but with a twist — she’s also a villain. The rice she’s created is more productive and pest-resistant, but it’s also sterile, forcing users to buy a fresh supply of seed each year from Mogil. This fact shocks both of local guys who’ve fallen in love with her — funny agriculture student Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and suave rich guy William (Saahil Sehgal) — but Linda is fully aware of the rice’s reproductive properties. She just never considered what it means economically for the customers who rely upon the rice and the communities they live in.
Linda somehow remains oblivious to the harm caused by her creations until very late in the film, well after the point that she should have had her revelation and change of heart. As such, it makes it hard to root for the happy ending with Rajit that the story is driving toward. Why does he deserve to be saddled with someone who seemingly lacks a conscience?
The music throughout is forgettable, but Larson and Ambudkar are decent enough singers. Their musical performances are overshadowed by the novelty of veteran actors Sutherland, Tyne Daly, and Scott Bakula singing and dancing.