Director: Danny Baron
Cast: Brie Larson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Scott Bakula, Saahil Sehgal, Tyne Daly, Donald Sutherland
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 8 February 2018
Synopsis: Basmati Blues is a musical comedy that follows Linda Watt (Academy Award winner Brie Larson), a sheltered but brilliant young scientist who is plucked out of her company’s lab and sent to India by her CEO (Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland) to sell “Rice 9,” a genetically modified rice she’s created - unaware that the rice will destroy the Indian farmers she thinks she’s helping. Her life turns upside down as she discovers the truth and falls in love.
Before Brie Larson dons a Captain Marvel’s suit to save the world in 2019, she is donning a sari to save Indiafirst.
Yup, this movie is about a white saviour who travels to an exotic land, soaks herself in the local culture and brings salvation to a community of non white people. What made investors gave the go ahead to this production which has a great potential to be criticised for cultural insensitivity? More importantly, what made 28 year old Larson, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015), say yes to starring in this movie?
Maybe it’s the exciting premise of headlining a musical that is supposedly a homage to Indian Bollywood cinema. Maybe it’s the idea of shooting a film in beautiful India. Or maybe it’s the concept of an interracial romance that seemed appealing.
Larson plays a scientist that steps out of her comfort zone in the lab to chaotic India. Her purpose there is to sell genetically modified rice she created. Like many other ignorant foreigners, she believes that she is helping the locals. One should know better than to trust a business conglomerate to benefit the masses – it doesn’t help that the CEO is played by Donald Sutherland, whom we have seen portraying the seedy President Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games franchise. Thankfully, our heroine saves the day just before things go awry, and locals are deprived of their rice farms forever.
The movie ends with a big Bollywood inspired number with countless extras wearing colourful Indian costumes and swinging their hips to a well choreographed sequence. This is song and dance scene is easily the best thing about the 107 minute movie.
Things don’t start off so well for the film directed by Danny Baron, who also co wrote the story with Jeff Dorchen. When the female protagonist arrives in India, you wonder why everyone is speaking in English. When Larson begins singing in a cab, you realise logic can be thrown out of the window as this is a movie musical where characters break into tunes every few minutes.
Although the original songs are written by well known artistes like Pearl Jam, Sugarland and Goldspot, they do not resonate and leave you humming the melodies after leaving the theatre (we’re looking at you, The Greatest Showman). The musical numbers are awkwardly interspersed into the storyline, and it doesn’t help that the cast looks too self conscious when performing them.
Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect) is the leading man of the movie, playing a rebellious college student forced to drop out by lack of funds. While the actor exudes a decent charisma, there is a lack of chemistry between him and Larson. Elsewhere, there is a bureaucrat played by Saahil Sehgal, a doting father played by Scott Bakula (The Informant!) and an unkind old lady played by Tyne Daly (Spider Man: Homecoming). Each of these actors bring something to their characters, but are not able to save the movie from being a bland and uninspiring watch.
(The Greatest Showman this movie musical is not)
Review by John Li