Basmati Blues: Brie Larson-starrer is particularly befuddling in an era when we are supposed to know better
In this gilded age of internets and computers and the burdensome necessity of being woke, we have in Basmati Blues a movie where the happy Indian villagers proudly live up to the stereotype of being happy Indian villagers and nothing else | Kuzhali Manickavel writes
'Allegedly Problematic' is a monthly column by Kuzhali Manickavel, which takes a cheeky look at literary/cultural offerings from the past that would now be considered, well, problematic — and asks, 'But are they really?'.
Read more from the series here.
Hello fam! And welcome to the second saucy instalment of this gastronomic delight of a column. Previously, we whined about Basmati Blues without actually watching it. This movie is an alleged musical tribute to Bollywood and rice as well as a breathtaking statement on the politics of genetically modified food! Wow! So first things first. Did I actually watch this movie? Well, I started to watch it. And then I was just flabbergasted. Then I was bored. And then I was like this movie is almost two hours long! And it’s only been half an hour! Then I felt really sad about my life. Then I looked at pictures of fat birds, for what I assume was about one-and-a-half hours and by then, thankfully, the movie was over.
While watching movies like Black Narcissus or The Tiger of Eschnapur, one tends to be a little forgiving because it was the olden days and white people just didn’t know any better back then. But Basmati Blues came out in 2017! In this gilded age of internets and computers and the burdensome necessity of being woke, we have here a movie where the happy Indian villagers proudly live up to the stereotype of being happy Indian villagers and nothing else. We have an unabashed story of white people coming in to save the Indian villagers who, like all native farmers, aren’t very smart about farming. Possibly because they are too busy being happy Indian villagers.
They sing! They smile! They laugh! They do things in slow motion! Apart from all that, India is loud! India is scary! Indian food is an exotic, perplexing riddle! Illustrious Acquaintance said that maybe this is what India is like to other people aka white people. And who was I to repeatedly jump up and down on their stories, screaming about racism blah blah blah. Because this is what so often happens, especially on the internet. An English speaking person of colour will stomp all over a white person’s story and make fun of them. I mean, that’s what this entire column is essentially about. And while it is definitely wrong to do that and I am so sorry, I’m also saying that this narrative of India is the one that keeps getting repeated, even in the new millennium when we are supposed to know better, even when actual Indians are trying and mostly failing to share their own narratives about their country. A mind-boggling idea of India is repeatedly put forth, based on little to no fact — and for some reason, it seems very important to be able to perpetuate these fantastical ideas and impressions because idk actually.
Let us consider this rather jaw-dropping mess of a scenario in which this movie is set. The village has Malayalam signage scattered all around. The people in the village speak Hindi amongst themselves but only when there is a white person present. Otherwise they speak in English (going so far as to describe the white lady’s finger as being soft as ghee, I’m not even kidding fam). There is a palace somewhere nearby. The village is called Bilari, which is a made-up village but an actual city in Uttar Pradesh. And at some point, there is a club scene where everyone seems to be dancing to a Tamil song. We will not delve into the really bewildering question of why the alleged Indians have American accents or that very strange scene where the white lady says hi to the Indian dude and then he says hi and then she says do you speak English and then he starts speaking a very heavily accented English which I guess is supposed to be different from the first English to make fun of the white lady who — ok, you know what? Forget it. In my world, this sounds like one of those weird nightmares you have when you get viral fever. But obviously, to others, this sounds like India.
Even otherwise though, Basmati Blues is just a really, really, really terrible movie. Which means that I don’t have to be all gross and political when I say this movie is, to quote a friend, ‘so very worst’. It is unbelievably problematic. But it’s also a steaming pile of poo. So there’s that at least. I guess.
Next week, we will take on another millennium masterpiece called The Love Guru. Sounds anti-national to me already! Till next month, fam!
Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of the short story collections 'Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings' and 'Things We Found During the Autopsy', both available from Blaft Publications
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