Brie Larson's 'Basmati Blues' Criticized for Trailer Featuring Indian Stereotypes
Producers apologize and say it isn't representative of the film, which stars the Oscar-winning actress as an American scientist sent to India to sell genetically modified rice to farmers.
The trailer for Brie Larson’s upcoming film Basmati Blues has sparked a controversy in India and beyond, getting criticized for its stereotypical depiction of the country.
The film was made in 2013 before Larson’s career took off when she won an Oscar in 2016 for Room, which was followed by an appearance in Kong: Skull Island. Her upcoming releases include Captain Marvel and an untitled Avengers film.
Musical comedy Basmati Blues was directed by Dan Baron, with its producers including Jeffrey Soros (Rules Don’t Apply) who is the nephew of billionaire George Soros. The film only secured distribution this year when it was acquired by Shout! Factory. The title was featured in The Hollywood Reporter’s 2016 Cannes hot List.
In the film, Larson plays an American scientist who is sent to a village in India by her boss (Donald Sutherland) to sell genetically modified rice to farmers. Basmati is a variety of Indian aromatic rice.
Larson’s character is shown in the trailer trying out Indian food for the first time only to discover that it is too spicy. Another scene shows a villager fooling Larson about “how we make hello” by slapping both sides of her head, something she then tries with the village chief, much to everybody’s astonishment.
The trailer, which was released last week, has been criticized online. Rahul W in a tweet called it "ridiculous," adding: "They've completely ignored the culture of the country. Typical to portray India as about rice, spicy food, poverty, poor English and cringy music. India don't need a white saviour. We're good without them."
"Sweet mother of god...that Brie Larson trailer is every Indian cliche in two minutes. White saviour, people riding on train tops and spicy food. STOP THIS MADNESS," said a tweet by Monisha Rajesh.
Another comment said: "Really wish Brie Larson wasn't the lead of a garbage movie titled 'Basmati Blues'." And another critical post said: "Hollywood, please stop making white savior / exoticism films like this!"
The online backlash led Baron and co-producer Monique Caulfield to issue a statement which THR obtained from Shout! Factory. "We deeply regret any offense caused by the Basmati Blues trailer," it said, adding: "We have heard a number of voices that have understandably reacted to a trailer that is not representative of the film as a whole. Unfortunately, the international trailer has given the wrong impression of the film's message and heart."
The makers said that the film is "not about an American going abroad to solve India's problems." They added: "At its heart, this film is about two people who reach across cultures, fight against corporate greed, and find love."
They also explained that the film "is a love letter to multiple eras of Bollywood cinema, musicals, and classic Hollywood romantic comedies. We are confident that the film, when seen in its entirety, will bear out our appreciation and respect for India and its people."
Shout! Factory also issued an additional statement to THR stating, “We are aware of the very valid concerns raised by the recently released international trailer for Basmati Blues. However, this trailer was released by an international sales agent [AMBI Distribution], not by the filmmakers or Shout! Factory,” adding that the trailer “is a highly inaccurate portrayal of the film.”
The statement said that the film “is a sweet, lighthearted musical romantic comedy about an American scientist who is sent on a work trip to India. When she and the villagers discover the company’s greedy agenda, they work together to fight against abusive agribusiness.”
Shout! Factory said it will be premiering a new trailer soon ahead of the film’s U.S. release slated for early 2018. “We stand behind the film and feel that when audiences have a chance to see Basmati Blues, they’ll find a charming story about two people who reach across cultures and find love,” the statement said, adding, “We believe audiences will see that the villagers do not need the American scientist to protect their interests, and this movie isn’t about a white savior.”
Larson has not yet commented on the issue, though she did talk about Basmati Blues in a 2013 interview with Uproxx, saying that the film gave her a chance to express her musical talents, "because it’s a musical, so I sing and dance and play guitar and do all the things.”
View the Basmati Blues trailer below:
Updated at 9:53 pm P.T. with additional statement from Shout! Factory.