Sometimes, English films set in India are delightful and make for great viewing – both parts of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel being a case in point. However, at times, filmmakers abroad, go on to make English movies set in India; presuming to comment on this vast and extraordinarily complex country of ours – movies that are so clichéd and disconnected from modern Indian reality that they become actually cringe-worthy. Soon to be released Basmati Blues appears to belong to the latter genre.
The story is about scientist Linda played by Brie Larson who creates a type of genetically modified rice with her father Ben played by Scott Bakula. Their boss Gurgon played by Donald Sutherland, appears to be the standard unethical businessman driven only by the profit motive. He sends them to India to sell this rice strain to rural farmers. The story appears to be about Linda’s experience of India, her interactions with Indian farmers, and there also appears to be the obvious white-brown romance thrown in for good measure.
As the trailer begins, the predictable, start to appear almost right away – Linda lands in colourful, chaotic India where people spill out of public transport and small ruminants accost people at train stations. Supposed vignettes of Indian life such as the extra spicy food of India, the simple rural folk engaged in traditional pursuits, the white person being stupidly misled about local customs, even some galloping around on steeds and the mandatory Indian wedding make an appearance.
Surprisingly, the village boy speaks fluent English with a trace of a foreign accent (doubtless an explanation will emerge). He also canoodles with the good white girl. There is also the obligatory smarmy Indian who is on the side of the Americans, as well as the brave courageous Indian who is not. Also, of course, India is this ‘exciting journey’ where feet are washed and aarti performed. Wait, there is dance – traditional as well as the nightclub variety too.
However, the end-to-end clichés are not even the worst part – it is the whole White Savior Syndrome that appears to be the leitmotif of the film. Sure the villain is a white guy, but the hero is white as well; the fact that it is a heroine, in this case, is neither here nor there. “One Woman will Fight for Justice” claims the trailer loftily.
This white savior cinematic trope is a recurring one; a throwback to colonial times and appears to be out of touch with the modern realities of the so-called third world. The moral tone of the narrative, a messianic central figure who rescues the hapless brown locals, and also gets in touch with their own inner self in the process, the essential narcissism of such a plot structure are quite common. We have seen this phenomenon in films such as
Some of these films are not really offensive, but rather ignorant and uncomprehending of the non-white reality of the rest of the world. You could even say they mean well.
Coming back to Basmati Blues, twitterers were less willing to let it go, however. “a terrible looking film filled with loads of stereotypes about Indians & India. We don’t need another movie about white saviours when we did everything in our power to get white people out of our country,” said one tweet.
“also it's 2017, most of our trains run on electricity which means you can't ride on the roof. and pls retire that trope of spicy food already. we know you can't handle anything of colour” said another. A tweet also pointed out “Do people in Hollywood not know that there are scientists in India? And Indian scientists in America?”
Well, we could say – let’s not be so thin-skinned and critical or we could say make better films already, America!!!
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