Danny Baron’s Basmati Blues invites us to endure the spectacle of Brie Larson struggling to show off her musical chops in a film that awkwardly melds Bollywood romcom tropes with a half-hearted critique of the GMO industry. As one of the key scientists behind the development of Rice #9, which promises to yield significantly larger crops around the world, the wide-eyed, optimistic Linda (Larson) jets off to India to promote the product on behalf of Mogil, an evil Monsanto-esque corporation. An array of asinine cross-cultural hijinks ensue upon her arrival, from Linda getting kicked by a goat to her being tricked into believing that the locals eat monkey meat and greet each other with silly head slaps. Nonetheless, she persists, forging a romantic connection with a poor farmer, Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar), while being simultaneously pursued by William (Saahil Sehgal), the young bureaucrat responsible for taking care of her while she’s in India.
Soon, Rajit decides to develop a strain of rice to compete with Rice #9 after discovering Mogil’s intention to force farmers to buy new seeds every year. His baffling decision to keep this information to himself, instead of confronting Linda, or anyone else for that matter, leads to their relationship running consistently hot and cold. Bastmati Blues comes to a screeching halt whenever the two aren’t on screen together, and as if to pick up that slack, the film begins to spiral out into meandering subplots involving Linda’s brief romantic liaison with William, which literally ends with a shrug, and various backroom deals that highlight Mogil’s corruption while also condescendingly painting Indian farmers as gullible and simple-minded. Basmati Blues’s central love story never feels remotely organic, as Linda and Rajit’s wildly inconsistent behaviors serve only the demands of the overarching story by creating absurd excuses to prevent Linda from learning of Mogil’s evil intentions until the film’s climax, which double-underlines Linda’s already insulting function as a white savior by propping her on top of a white horse and having her literally ride in to save the film’s farmers from themselves.
Such clunky storytelling might be forgivable if the bland musical numbers scattered throughout the film were actually distinguishable from one another. And the consistently cheap music-video aesthetic within which they’re packaged only makes their attempts to tug at the heartstrings all the more cloying. But even worse than the insufferable mawkishness of the romantic songs is the “Working for the Greater Good” number in which Gurgon (Donald Sutherland), the moustache-twirling baddie who runs Mogil, convinces William to dupe India’s farmers, arguing that global capitalism is for the betterment of all. Though it’s clearly meant as a cheeky affront to corporate greed, the number is so painfully inept in its execution that it leaves you not with an understanding of the depths of Gurgon’s greed so much as a genuine sense of pity for Sutherland, who can’t bring himself to muster up even the smallest amount of enthusiasm needed to sell the scene.