Basmati Blues (United States, 2017)

February 09, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Basmati Blues Poster

Basmati Blues isn’t nearly as bad as some of the online buzz might indicate…and that’s actually unfortunate. Instead of vying for a so-bad-it’s-entertaining categorization, it falls squarely into the hell of cinematic mediocrity. A forgettable merging of a fish-out-of-water story with a cross-cultural romance, the movie wants to be Crocodile Dundee meets Outsourced but ends up coming nowhere close to the unique charms of either. As if realizing there’s not much here to get excited about, the filmmakers have inserted five or six musical numbers which are neither catchy nor memorable. I dunno – maybe the feeling was that since the film transpires in India, there needs to be singing and dancing. But the Bollywood energy is missing and, left in its place are a group of mostly-Western song-and-dance numbers that feel like outtakes from La La Land.

For a while, it looked like Basmati Blues was never going to be released. Then Brie Larson won as Oscar for Room and the film at least had a marketing hook. Larson is one of the best things about the movie. Her star quality shines through and, although her singing isn’t top-notch, she gamely muddles along. Her co-star, Utkarsh Ambudkar, is also charismatic but, strangely, he and Larson lack any genuine romantic chemistry. Their bond feels more like that of a brother and sister so, when they kiss, there’s not much there. Scott Bakula and Tyne Daly have thankless supporting roles and Donald Sutherland hams it up as the villainous rice mogul. His song is one of those deliciously bad moments the movie needs a lot more of.

The story is about the journey of Linda (Larson), a sincere genetic scientist who travels to India to sell the idea of Rice-9, a modified form of grain that is resistant to disease, pestilence, and pretty much everything bad. It is also packed with nutrients, making it healthier than the regular stuff. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reproduce so any farmer buying it becomes caught in a cycle where they have to purchase another lot every year in order to keep the crops coming. Linda is unaware of the drawback which is the reason why her boss, the devious and duplicitous Gurgon (Sutherland) is so excited about the product’s prospects.

While in India embarking on a lecturing tour, Linda meets cute with a local rapscallion named Rajit (Ambudkar). The two banter, do the whole love/hate thing, go dancing, and so forth… It’s all a little tedious because we know what’s coming and the screenplay doesn’t have sufficient charm for us to enjoy the foreplay more. There’s just not enough romantic tension. Although initially on opposite sides of the rice issue, with Linda backing it and Rajit believing there’s a better option (one that involves planting stinkweed alongside the cash crop), they eventually join forces to defeat the aforementioned devious and duplicitous Gurgon, who slinks back whence he came.

One of the charges leveled against Basmati Blues is that it features a “white savior.” This isn’t the case – although Linda is instrumental in Gurgon’s defeat, she’s initially his dupe. The real “savior” in this case is Rajit, who fights against the interlopers and becomes key in convincing Linda that her boss is up to no good. There are plenty of other problems with the movie without hanging this unjustified millstone around its neck. Although nicely shot and featuring some beautiful scenery, the movie lacks personality. The songs don’t linger in the mind or on the lips, the dancing choreography is unremarkable, and the story – a fusion of three standard subgenres (the opposites attract rom-com, the fish out of water, and the cultural clash) – is generic. It’s not hard to understand why a production featuring recognizable names lingered for so long on the shelf.

Basmati Blues (United States, 2017)

Director: Dan Baron
Cast: Brie Larson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Scott Bakula, Saahil Sehgal, Tyne Daly, Donald Sutherland
Home Release Date: 2018-04-03
Screenplay: Dan Baron & Jeff Dorchen
Cinematography: Himman Dhamija
Music: Steven Argila
U.S. Distributor: Shout! Factory
Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 2018-02-09
MPAA Rating: "NR"
Genre: Musical/Romance/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1