Basmati Blues is the directorial debut of Danny Baron and stars Brie Larson as a young scientist responsible for producing a genetically modified rice with her father (Scott Bakula). When a company representative fails to sell this new product to the rice farmers of India, their slimy boss (Donald Sutherland) sends her to the country to convince the locals to agree with it. However, she doesn’t realise the negative implications of this scheme, and her eyes are opened by local farmer and love interest Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudar), an intelligent young man who was unable to achieve his dreams at college.
Basmati Blues is a bizarre but ambitious watch; it floored me in it’s opening scenes, to the point where I couldn’t believe what I was watching. But looking into it a little further, the filmmakers have stated that this film is inspired by Bollywood cinema, and that’s where it all made sense. The over the top drama, fast paced nature, ridiculous musical numbers – It’s jarring at first, but once you appreciate the culture behind it, it becomes a much easier watch. That being said, it’s not necessarily an entertaining watch; it’s easy to appreciate where it’s coming from and it is by all accounts a well-intended and ultimately harmless film, but the pacing is horrendous and it’s application of typical Bollywood tropes feel a little lifeless. The events of the film move way too fast, and whether it comes down to bad writing or bad editing is one thing, but it simply makes the film drag. The musical number struggle to land as well, failing to be catchy or add anything to the film.
I spent a fair while wondering when this film was actually made; released in 2017, sure, but there was no way this film was made too recently. Turns out it was initially supposed to come out in 2015, and Brie Larson signed on in 2013, so that really put things into perspective. Just from the way it’s made, it kind of screams “DVD movie from the early 2000s”, which I knew wasn’t possible given Larson’s starring role but I was still surprised to see it was made much later than that. The trailer was released last year and came under heavy fire for it’s portrayal of Indian stereotypes and furthering the “White saviour” trope. Looking at the trailer, it was completely reasonable to come to these conclusions as it is not a good trailer at all, but the film itself doesn’t quite go that way. It would be ignorant to say there are no stereotypes present, and it does at times poke fun at the culture of India, but ultimately it’s done in a way that isn’t particularly lazy or cheap, and does go a long way to show off the hard working and respectable trade of rice farmer in India, not to mention avoiding some easy hits and making great use of the beautiful landscape. As for the white saviour thing, I think there’s definitely an argument to be made for it, but I also don’t think that it was intentional, especially given the blatant attempt to paint the villainous Donald Sutherland character as a cartoonishly evil corporate figure who doesn’t care for the culture. Sutherland, by the way, is actually hilarious, and surprisingly doesn’t phone it in despite every opportunity.
It’s not for lack of trying, but Basmati Blues sadly doesn’t quite achieve what it’s going for. Good performances all around, some beautiful scenery and a respectful approach to the culture at hand, but suffers from terrible pacing and inability to capture the essence of the style of film it’s attempt to homage.
Basmati Blues is available on DVD now.