‘Basmati Blues’: Film Review

Brie Larson plays a young scientist who travels to India in ‘Basmati Blues,’ Danny Baron’s musical that has spent years sitting on the shelf.

The Bottom Line

Ca-Ca Land.

RELEASE DATE Feb 09, 2018

The years have done little to enhance the long-on-the-shelf Basmati Blues, even though time has been much kinder to its lead actress, as she has won an Oscar and become a genuine movie star. Shot before Brie Larson appeared in her breakout film Room, this fish-out-of-water musical set largely in India is the sort of unmitigated disaster that the actress would no doubt have preferred to stay under wraps. The controversy over the supposed racial stereotyping and “white savior” theme in the film’s initial trailer certainly didn’t help matters for this misbegotten curiosity.

Not that much of anything would. From its opening scene in which Larson, clad in a tank-top and pajama bottoms, warbles a song in a musical number that continues with her dancing down a Manhattan street, it’s clear that this directorial debut from Danny Baron is destined for cult-camp status at best. Larson assumes the central role of Linda Watt, who works alongside her scientist father (Scott Bakula) in the research department of an international agriculture company named, wait for it, Mogil Corporation. (Presumably, because Mel Brooks had already used “Engulf and Devour” in Silent Movie.)

The company’s chief executive, Gurgon (yes, he’s named Gurgon, and he’s played by Donald Sutherland, who should have known better), sends Linda to India to sell the local farmers on the company’s new product, a genetically modified rice dubbed “Rice 9.” There she meets Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar, The Mindy Project), a young man recently forced to leave university because of a lack of funds. They two forge an instant flirtatious connection despite Rajit making a fool out of her by pretending that the local greeting consists of several quick slaps to the head. A romantic triangle of sorts develops between them and William (Saahil Sehgal), a Mogil employee who’s assigned to be Linda’s local contact and guide.

Rajit, who has his own idea, involving stinkweed, for improving the local rice crop, quickly becomes suspicious of Rice 9. He figures out that Mogil’s secret plan is to exploit the farmers by making them buy its seed on an annual basis in perpetuity. Linda eventually catches on to the scheme as well, leading to a melodramatic climax in which she literally rides in on a white horse and commandeers a train to get the better of the corporate evildoers.

The comically melodramatic, over-the-top proceedings are occasionally, but thankfully not too often, interrupted by poorly staged musical numbers. While Larson displays a decent singing voice (she actually released a pop album more than a decade ago), she’s hamstrung by the mediocre original songs contributed by such musicians as Pearl Jam, David Baerwald, Sonu Nigram and Kristian Bush of Sugarland. Several of the supporting players have solid musical theater credentials, including Daly and Bakula, but they’re given little to do, with Bakula’s sole number shown during the closing credits. There’s also a big production number, “The Greater Good,” featuring Sutherland, who speak-sings in woefully pitiful fashion. Larson dons colorful Indian garb to participate in a big Bollywood-style production number at the film’s embarrassing conclusion.

It’s hard to imagine how the director, whose only previous credit is as one of the screenwriters of the 2001 David Arquette comedy See Spot Run, managed to get this ambitious project off the ground (one of the producers is Jeffrey Soros, nephew of George). Larson, soon to be seen playing the title role in Captain Marvel, will no doubt survive this early career embarrassment. It’s just unfortunate that viewers drawn to the film by her name will have to suffer because of her success.

Production companies: Red Baron Films, Considered Entertainment, Zas Film AG
Distributor: Shout! Studios
Cast: Brie Larson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Scott Bakula, Saahil Sehgal, Tyne Daly, Donald Sutherland, Lakshmi Manchu, Dalip Tahil, Suhasini Mulay
Director: Danny Baron
Screenwriters: Danny Baron, Jeffrey Dorchen

Producers: Monique Caulfield, Jeffrey Soros, Ruedi Gerber
Executive producers: Randolph Paul, Elliot Lester

Director of photography: Himman Dhamija
Production designer: Bernardo Trujillo

Editor: Tom Lewis
Composer: Steven Argila

Costume designer: Karyn Wagner

105 minutes