Among the reasons why you should not miss one of this year’s under-the-radar releases, “Basmati Blues,” a charming Bollywood-esque Hollywood musical romantic comedy, is for the on-screen appeal of the film’s lead actors, Indian American actor Utkarsh Ambudkar and Oscar winner Brie Larson. Both are talented actors, and singers, and show off their musical chops in this visual and aural feast; if you watch the trailer of the film, which releases Feb. 9, it’s evident why.
In the film, Larson, who won an Academy Award in 2016 for the ‘Best Leading Actress’ in “Room,” plays Dr. Linda Watt, a brilliant young scientist who is plucked out of her company’s lab and sent to India by her CEO (Donald Sutherland) to convince farmers to use a genetically modified rice she’s created. There she falls in love with rebellious college dropout Rajit (Ambudkar).
Through his playful and often infuriating antagonism, Linda learns she has unwittingly aided a destructive plan against the farmers she was supposedly sent to help. A passionate battle erupts and the future rests on whether Linda and Rajit can quit arguing long enough to admit they love each other and save the day.
Ambudkar told India-West that the film’s core team’s passion convinced him to accept the role, at least in part.
“The passion of the director and producer Danny Baron, Monique Caulfield, Jeff Soros as well as co-writer Jeff Dorchen really excited me,” he said. “Also, it’s very rare in Hollywood as a South Asian male to have an opportunity to play a leading role, especially a romantic one.”
The first trailer of the film, directed by Danny Baron, written by Baron and Jeffrey Dorchen, and produced by Monique Caulfield, Jeffrey Soros and Ruedi Gerbe, debuted in November 2017 and was met with an instant outcry, with many calling out the filmmakers for relying on cultural appropriation and Indian stereotypes.
The trailer was criticized for perpetuating Indian stereotypes and the “white savior” narrative.
“That unauthorized trailer was cut in a way that undermined the entire spirit of the film. It is a love story TO India. It fights FOR India,” Ambudkar emphasized to India-West. “We learn that a Western savior is the opposite of what India needs. India needs (and has) its own people to create and effect change. And we come to learn that through a funny, passionate and thoughtful love story between two characters who are literally worlds apart in both culture and beliefs and yet somehow find each other.”
This cross-cultural film, which also features Indian actors Suhasini Mulay and Dalip Tahil, he said, is “meant to be enjoyed, not pulled apart.”
A native of Sacramento, Calif., Larson, with starring roles in films like “Trainwreck,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “The Glass Castle, today has legions of fans across the country. And Ambudkar said the actress is “a phenomenal person and actor.”
“We shared something like the quadratic equation on set. Wait – I’m an actor not a mathematician — which one is the quadratic equation again?” he quipped. “Jokes aside, Brie is capable of being completely present in any moment she’s in. It’s an incredible skill and it was such a gift to work with her.”
The Indian American artist, who had a breakout role in the 2012 film, “Pitch Perfect,” and quite literally rapped his way onto “The Mindy Project” as Rishi Lahiri, Mindy Kaling’s brother, has had prominent acting stints on shows and films such as “Love Is Relative,” “Mary + Jane,” “American Koko,” “The Electric Company,” “Ride Along 2” and “Freaks of Nature.”
“Basmati Blues” was shot over parts of two years in Mumbai, Kerala, and New York City. The film secured distribution in 2017 when it was acquired by Shout! Factory. Ambudkar said it was a delight to shoot in India, and visiting family on off-days was an added bonus. Not only that, his parents even scored a cameo in the film.
“Danny Baron really made the set and the experience feel like a family adventure and I love seeing my mom and dad dancing like crazy in the last scene of the movie,” he told India-West, adding that one of the scenes, which was shot in a club, felt like they had walked into a “Bollywood film 100 percent. It was incredible. I couldn’t keep up!”
“Basmati Blues” features original songs written by global artists Pearl Jam, Kristian Bush of Sugarland, Sid Khosla of Goldspot, Dave Baerwald, and Indian talent Sonu Nigam.
While having an Academy Award winner on board the project did give it that extra marketing push, Ambudkar noted that viewers should watch out for every talent that’s associated with “Basmati Blues.”
“Brie Larson is an amazing actor and I was really excited to work with her. I hope the amazing success that Brie has had in her career brings a lot of positive attention to this film,” he told India-West. “Lakshmi Manchu also plays a great role and her fan base is so loyal and loving. Not to mention Donald Sutherland, Tyne Daley and Scott Bakula. The talent in this film is off the charts.”
Telugu actress Manchu, who has featured on American TV series like “Desperate Housewives,” and “Las Vegas,” plays the supporting role of a village farmer, Sita.
While Ambudkar juggles acting and singing with élan, his heart lies in music.
Last seen on Season 1 of Showtime’s “White Famous,” Ambudkar also grabbed eyeballs on NBA’s latest on-air promo campaign. In the NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC promo, Ambudkar can be seen rapping alongside James Monroe Iglehart (“Hamilton”), both members of hip-hop improvised group Freestyle Love Supreme.
“Making and performing music has always been my first love. From ‘Pitch Perfect’ to ‘The Mindy Project’ to the NBA promos, my acting career has directly been influenced by my background in music and hip- hop,” he confided to India-West. “When I can meld the two on stage or screen I’m at my happiest.”
And Ambudkar’s glittering resume keeps expanding. He has a featured role in the film, “Blindspotting,” written and starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Lionsgate has acquired the worldwide rights to the film which, Ambudkar said, was picked as a Top 10 Movie at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
On March 23, Netflix will release “Game Over, Man!,” an action comedy he co-stars in alongside Adam Devine, Anders Holm and Blake Anderson from “Workaholics.” In the film, three friends are on the verge of getting their video game financed when their benefactor is taken hostage by terrorists.
In April 2019, Ambudkar has a five-episode arc on Hank Azaria’s “Brockmire” on IFC.
“And be on the lookout for brand new music coming very soon,” he said.
Watch the trailer for “Basmati Blues” here: