‘Basmati Blues’: Yes, Brie Larson made a musical about rice, and it’s terrible
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
If you happen to come across “Basmati Blues” this weekend, or on some future late night when your clicker finger is particularly fidgety and you’re looking for something you haven’t seen before, trust me:
You’ve never seen anything like this.
I’m not saying you should see it. I’m just saying you’ve never seen anything like it.
You might not believe your eyes (or ears), but I am here to confirm for you that yes, “Basmati Blues” is a real film: a quasi-Bollywood musical starring Brie Larson as a guitar-strumming American scientist who journeys to India to spread the word about a genetically modified rice.
It’s wackier than it sounds.
Filmed more than four years ago, well before Larson’s Academy Award-winning turn in “Room,” Dan Baron’s romantic comedy/musical is only now getting a limited theatrical release and is available through video on demand as well.
It is a terrible film, and it skirts (but does not cross) the line of offensiveness with the storyline about the white princess who travels to India to engage with the colorful locals and teach them about a whole new way of farming — but it is undeniably watchable in the same way you can’t turn away from a talent show featuring a medley of acts that are pretty awful but quite confident they’ve got something to share.
Larson plays Linda, a brilliant but socially naïve scientist who works alongside her father (Scott Bakula, looking perplexed throughout, as if he thought he’d been cast in a different movie) for the Mogil Corp., led by Donald Sutherland’s Gurgon, who is the chief mogul for Mogil.
Linda has developed a new and apparently miraculous type of rice, called “Rice Nine,” which will produce super crops using less water. (One assumes there was a Rice One, Rice Two, etc., before she hit the jackpot with Rice Nine.)
After a public-relations scandal in India, Gurgon plucks the plucky Linda out of lab-rat obscurity and sends her off to India, to explain the benefits of Rice Nine to farmers throughout the land.
Gee, that should be a short trip.
The ever-charming Ms. Larson is not destined for musical greatness any time soon. She’s an OK dancer and she smiles throughout, but on a number of occasions she appears to be half-heartedly mouthing the words to songs that were recorded in a faraway studio on another day.
It doesn’t help that the lyrics are among the most curious and simplistic in the history of the movie musical.
The chorus of one peppy number has Larson singing, “I know there’s no guarantee, and time will be the test, but all signs point to … yes!’
Even though Linda is a well-educated scientist who lives in Manhattan, she is utterly overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle and mysterious cultural ways of India. (Pick up a book or do a little Googling before you head to a foreign land, Linda.)
As Linda flounces about, getting mixed up in hijinks involving monkeys and bananas and misunderstandings of the language, she attracts the attention of two young men: William (Saahil Sehgal), a slick charmer who comes from a well-heeled family; and Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a brilliant ag student forced to drop out of college because his family couldn’t afford to keep up the tuition payments.
The love triangle leads to a syrupy power ballad in which one character manages to sum up concerns about the environment with his love for Linda by crooning:
It’s terrifying what the data shows
Destroy the planet and we’ll reap what we sow
It’s cataclysmical, but she’s very beautiful …
Is “cataclysmical” even a word?
But wait, it gets better! Well, not better, but …
Donald Sutherland as the villainous Gurgon and Tyne Daly as his partner in evil take center stage in a well-choreographed but absolutely insane, Broadway-style number titled “The Greater Good,” in which Sutherland sings, “Think about the greater good … the many need the few… buy low, sell high …”
And Daly responds: “When it comes to job creation, conglomerates can’t be beat, you gotta loosen up child labor laws and get the kiddies off the street!”
All righty then.
If you make it to the end of “Basmati Blues,” stick around for a Bollywood-style production number that starts with Scott Bakula crooning at the piano and segues to dozens of happy cast members and extras dancing and clapping and singing to the skies.
It’s cataclysmical, but it’s very rhythmical.
Shout! Studios presents a film directed by Danny Baron and written by Baron and Jeffrey Dorchen. No MPAA rating. Running time: 105 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC South Barrington and on demand.