Basmati Blues movie review: You won’t believe how racist (and insulting) Brie Larson’s film is
Director - Dan Baron
Cast - Brie Larson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Scott Bakula, Donald Sutherland
Rating - 0.5/5
There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill in which David Carradine (Bill) does what so many actors in Tarantino’s movies tend to do: He delivers a speech. The recipient of the speech is his nemesis, Uma Thurman’s Bride, tied to a chair, beaten and bloody. The stage is the living room of a rather large house. “Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman,” Bill says, surprising just about everyone with his choice of topic.
Bill’s thesis suggests that the blue suit with the big red ’S’ emblazoned on it isn’t Superman’s costume, those are the clothes of his people. The costume - the suit, the glasses - is what he chooses to wear to blend in with us. “Clark Kent,” Bill says, “is how Superman views us.”
And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent?
“He’s weak... he’s unsure of himself... he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”
There’s a point to this story. Promise.
To someone who doesn’t belong to a certain place, the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of its people are open to interpretation. That is why racial and cultural stereotypes exist, they’re usually propagated by people who have either not had first-hand experience dealing with foreigners, or even if they have, they’ve been too close-minded to appreciate the uniqueness of others.
Basmati Blues is a film made by people who could belong to either category. And since it’s frankly unbelievable that a person could be familiar with India and its people and still choose to make a film like this, what’s more likely is that debutant director Dan Baron’s entire research for this movie comprised of watching old cartoons and listening far too intently to one of his racist uncles’ stories.
If this is how clueless foreigners perceive us - head-bobbing, monkey-eating, rags-wearing buffoons - then we’ve just been critiqued, like the earthlings in Tarantino’s reading of Superman.
Not two minutes have passed since Brie Larson’s arrival in India - less than 24 hours after declaring that she doesn’t even have a passport, mind you - and she has already stepped in poop, befriended a goat and observed Dalip Tahil eat rice off a banana leaf. She has also met a man named William J Patel, a name that any Indian can tell you - while theoretically possible in the same way that Donald Obama is theoretically possible - is a hard one to come across.
Almost as hard, some might say, as it is to find an authentic Indian accent in this movie. For some reason (laziness), Baron and his team decided to cast almost every speaking role, and certainly every significant Indian role, with American actors. And as any racist who has ever made the mistake of casting a man from Senegal to play a black man from Los Angeles can tell you, they don’t really have much in common besides their shared heritage.
Similarly, there isn’t a single central Indian character in Basmati Blues who sounds Indian, and none of the actors have the capability of sounding authentic either. In addition to this blatant racism - let’s not beat about the bush here; this movie doesn’t deserve leniency - it’s also geographically vague. It’s supposed to be set somewhere in the south - which itself is a crude generalisation to make - but has scenes in which characters dance to Punjabi music, drink north eastern tea, and visit Rajasthani-looking houses. Again, all of this is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely, especially when all this is happening in the same scene.
Clearly, the ignorance of several people is responsible for how Basmati Blues turned out. And we haven’t even begun talking about the actual filmmaking, which involves cheap green screen, hastily shot filler material, and song and dance numbers straight out of a 80’s Bollywood movie (that last bit is not a compliment, before Baron takes it as one).
After the first trailer came out, and was subsequently (and rightly) slammed for, as it turns out, accurately representing this movie, a Vulture article attempted to understand how a film like this could actually get made in today’s cultural climate. Among its many crimes, it also reintroduces that rather outdated ‘white saviour’ trope that we thought we’d abolished by now.
And of course the story behind it is just as hair-brained as the final product. You should read it. Baron began shooting in 2012 - a fact evidenced by Brie Larson’s use of a Blackberry in some scenes - but could only finish five years later. It’s easy to imagine that Larson, whose star has significantly risen since 2012 - she’s won an Oscar and has signed on to play a Marvel superhero in the meantime - attempted to bury Basmati Blues. Enough actors have done this in the past - most recently, Jennifer Lawrence was rumoured to have tried to kill her 2014 movie, Serena, released to capitalise on her Hunger Games star power.
Wherever the truth may lie, it’s quite clear that this isn’t the loving homage to Bollywood musicals that was originally intended. It isn’t a takedown on global capitalism and the corrupt food industry. And it most certainly isn’t a celebration of India.
Watch the Basmati Blues trailer here