Well this is a first.
For those of you living around the world, you may not know that the United Kingdom has quite a significant South-Asian population. Mostly this is due to the historic links of the Commonwealth. As such, it’s not unusual to have a film released that tries to present the Bollywood experience through a British lens. The most famous one was probably Bride & Prejudice all the way back in 2004. But like London buses, you can generally expect one along at regular intervals.
However, though I’ve wracked my brains, I can’t think of a film that presents the typical Bollywood experience through an American lens (It’ll be over my dead body before I acknowledge 2008’s The Love Guru! *shudder*)
So, Basmati Blues already has something unique going for it. Add in Brie Larson, the only leading Marvel hero to have won an Oscar (seriously, look it up); as well as the numerous accusations of racism, and my curiosity was aroused enough to give £4 to Amazon for a rental. And while it definitely wasn’t a waste of money, I wouldn’t say it was a particularly good investment either.
Linda Watt (Brie Larson) is a brilliant young scientist who has been working with her father, Eric (Scott Bakula), on developing “Rice 9”; a type of rice that is resistant to a variety of diseases and grows in harsh climates.
Being that India is the largest consumer of rice in the world, Linda’s boss (Donald Sutherland) has decided that Indian farmers would be the perfect customers to sell their rice to. To facilitate the sale, he sends Linda to India in order to introduce their new product.
There she meets Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a young man who fights for the rights of his fellow farmers; and William (Saahil Sehgal), a local associate for the company she works for. And though Linda came there with the best intentions, she soon realises that not everything is as it seems.
Forgive the tangent, but back during the 2008 election, I remember when John McCain was doing a Q&A , and a young lady accused Barack Obama of being “an Arab.” McCain responded by taking the microphone and saying “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues”
I found that to be a very reasonable response, but was shocked to later find out that some people were calling McCain a racist; mostly because he implied that being an Arab and being a decent family man were two separate characteristics. An utterly ridiculous notion that clearly was never intended by McCain.
As such, over the past few years, one of my pet hates is how easily people resort to the word racist. For me, racism comes from either hate or a belief in superiority. Trust me, I know because I’ve literally been beaten up because of the colour of my skin. And to see so many pathetic attempts to bring down Basmati Blues for the “crime” of being racist is both misguided and contemptible.
Yes, the movie is full of clichés, but to say that equals racism is idiocy at its finest. I’m also in no way saying that Basmati Blues is a great cinematic experience, but if this article from Vulture is anything to go upon, the cast and crew really did try their best to bring a great product to the screen. And none more so that Brie Larson herself.
Larson brings a passion and dedication that helps drive the film forward as it hops back and forth between the two nations. Her infectious charisma, from the opening dance routine in New York; to the flamboyant group number that closes the film, helps keep things ticking along. And while her chemistry with Ambudkar doesn’t reach Set It Up-levels, the duo still make a pretty cute couple.
However, this type of movie lives and dies on its musical numbers, and Basmati Blues can’t quite reach the heights set by similar fare, such as La La Land or The Greatest Showman. To be fair, those aforementioned films had much larger budgets, but as films like Sing Street or Once have shown, a small budget can be overcome if you have memorable songs.
In addition, quite a strange approach has been taken to produce the songs for Basmati Blues. Unlike traditional musicals, where songs are written by one or two people, here a variety of groups and individuals have put forward their work; ranging from rock band Pearl Jam, to country music duo Sugarland. As such there’s always a sense of unevenness that permeates the vocals.
Though the Vulture article makes clear that the husband-and-wife team of director Dan Baron (in his feature debut) and producer Monique Caulfield have done their absolute best; it’s hard not to notice the substandard work in several areas, such as bland locations, choppy editing and flawed direction. While I have a great deal of sympathy (having struggled myself to make a film), there’s no avoiding the fact that Basmati Blues ends up being as plain looking as Basmati rice.