Review | Basmati Blues (2018)
Basmati Blues, the feature debut of Danny Baron, sees a scientist travel to India on a PR mission for a slimy corporation who want to peddle a new strain of rice to local farmers. The musical was co-written by Baron, and stars Brie Larson, Donald Sutherland and Utkarsh Ambudkar.
You might be wondering, as I was, what Academy Award winner Brie Larson is doing in a musical about rice. This is Captain Marvel! The fine actress who starred in Room! Isn’t Basmati Blues a cheesy, vaguely-offensive bit of bullshit?
Turns out it is, yeah. As for what Brie’s doing here, well – Basmati Blues was filmed years ago, not long after its star began receiving national attention for Short Term 12. Did you know that Brie Larson is also a relatively decent guitar player and singer? I didn’t. Just goes to show what kind of titbits you can unearth when a film is so terrible that it prompts investigation into the motives of those involved in it.
As for the motive of the film itself, that’s obvious. Baron’s intention for Basmati Blues was as a love letter from Hollywood to Bollywood. And the Bollywood romantic comedy is, often, also a musical. You can see the appeal for Larson, before she knew any better.
As spirited as ever, here Larson plays Linda Watt, a New York-based scientist who, along with her father (Scott Bakula), has genetically modified a higher-yielding strain of rice that is resistant to droughts and floods. They’re doing this for the Mogil Corporation. Its sinister, bigwig capitalist CEO (Donald Sutherland) selects Linda to be the cherubic face of a ploy to hoodwink local Indian farmers into switching to the sterile rice. And so off she pops to India.
Linda doesn’t know that her boss is harbouring a calculating and greedy heart, which I find suspicious. His second in command is Broadway veteran Tyne Daly. Only one of them can sing, but both are expected to break into vapid song at a moment’s notice. Sutherland seems to be enjoying himself in these numbers. At least someone was.
In India, Linda attempts to navigate a love triangle involving two would-be suitors (Utkarsh Ambudkar and Saahil Sehgal), one an uptight executive, and the other a salt-of-the-earth young farmer. As plot mechanisms go, I can’t think of many that would be less interesting. Although it does facilitate hilarious dialogue like this: “You should stop by my lab – I’ll show you my rice.”
Larson gives this nonsense her all, as do the rest of the cast, who, next to her, are unfortunately less compelling than the rice. Baron has attempted to graft an environmental message onto a traditional musical template, and it feels distractingly inorganic and insincere. The idea that backwards Indians need a pretty, blonde white chick to swoop in on a literal white horse and revamp their agricultural practices is a bit unsavoury too – and that isn’t a rice pun, honestly.
This is, though: Basmati Blues is mushy slop reheated from 2013, and if you consume it it’ll make you f*****g sick.