Back in 2013, a movie called Basmati Blues—about a white lady who does science-y things with rice that goes to India and undergoes a series of hilarious and heartwarming culture shocks, most shocking of all being that she falls in love with an Indian rice farmer—was completed and unceremoniously shelved. In a different world, we still might not have known about the film starring Brie Larson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Donald Sutherland. But because we have chosen truly the darkest timeline, the film has been resuscitated, picked up for distribution, and is set for a 2018 release.
It’s a tale as old as time, or at least as long as India has been colonized by various European nations. The “international” trailer is essentially a very detailed crash course in white savior tropes. Here’s a list of the all-too-familiar cliches of India that we see all the time, but also happen to appear in this trailer:
- A white corporate GMO rice executive (Don Sutherland) informs a mild-mannered but very smart young rice scientist named Linda (Larson) that she’s going to India!
- Tuk-tuks portray the dizzying chaos of the streets of India.
- Something funny with a goat!
- By jove, the exotic curry is excruciatingly painful in its flavor, far too much for her delicate white tongue! (Perhaps you are beginning to see why this movie was shelved for four years.)
- A plucky, humble farmer boy takes advantage of her cultural cluelessness and teaches her a hilarious fake greeting!
- She uses the hilarious fake greeting on a “village elder!”
- The plucky, humble farmer was actually a very smart boy full of potential (until, I’m guessing, the pressures of village life overcame him in sort of a Good Will Hunting cross-contamination).
- The farmer boy teaches the laboratory-bound lady about mother nature.
- Actually, the strain of rice the corporation wants to sell (or whatever) is sterile (presumably ruining the lives of the farmers they have been selling it to?)! She’s been set up!
- Linda LITERALLY RIDES A HORSE IN A RACE AGAINST A TRAIN in order to somehow save the villagers.
- The white corporate rice executive literally says, “The train of progress will not be stopped.”
- Linda learns Indian classical dance.
- A brown person washes Linda’s feet.
- The white lady plays guitar and sings because OH YEAH, THIS IS A MUSICAL. WITH SONGS FROM PEARL JAM AND SUGARLAND.
- The farmer boy jokes that Linda must have been Indian in a past life because she can dance.
- Linda wears a sari and dances with a bunch of people at the end, meaning that she and the farmer boy probably got married.
So it’s Outsourced meets Dances With Wolves meets Dangerous Minds? My friends, I don’t know what exactly this is, but it’s exactly what you get when someone named “Dan Baron” (I’m going to guess he’s not Indian), whose only other writing credit includes See Spot Run, writes and directs (and acts in) a movie that largely takes place in India.
To be fair, we have come a long way in terms of the portrayal of South Asian characters and opportunities for South Asian actors in western media since 2013, which is partly why this feels even more outdated. The Mindy Project began in 2012, but there was no Master of None, and no Silicon Valley. There simply weren’t a lot of strong South Asian stories and hardly any roles for the handful of working South Asian actors. Obviously, there still aren’t enough solid South Asian roles today, but having South Asians writing the roles does help.
Basmati Blues is yet another example that racism in white savior stories is like white on rice. (Heh.)