Brie Larson
LINDA - Brie Larson

 Donald Sutherland
GURGON - Donald Sutherland

Tyne Daly
EVELYN - Tyne Daly

 Utkarsh Ambudkar
RAJIT - Utkarsh Ambudkar

 Saahil Sehgal
WILLIAM - Saahil Sehgal

 Scott Bakula
ERIC - Scott Bakula
A key element of the casting was finding talent who had all three skills, acting, singing and dancing. Academy Award®-winner Brie Larson, who was cast in Basmati Blues before her breakout performance in the 2015 Academy Award-winning Room, sings, dances and plays the guitar. “I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12, and I was a little rusty, but I just practiced,” said Larson. “I didn’t decide to do a musical because I wanted the world to see what a great singer and dancer I was. I did it because there is an important message about human existence that involves being able to step away from all of the heady stuff and learning to sing and dance along the way. And I want to give the feelings of spontaneity and freedom.”

When the filmmakers first started thinking about casting Larson, there wasn’t a lot of footage to look at and none of Larson in the lead. So the filmmakers went through everything she had ever been in.

“We had to go in and look at all the small parts she played in different places, and I cut together the footage to show our other producers that Larson was the right casting for Linda,” said Baron. “You could see how real she was and how sincere she was in everything. When she’s funny it’s not about telling a joke, it’s finding humor inside of the characters. She becomes the person she's playing.”

“One thing I loved about working with Brie Larson was her playful attitude about India,” said Caulfield. “You’d be shooting and all of a sudden a cow would appear or the monsoon would hit or a dog or a chicken or a goat would come by and she would just laugh and really just be delighted by the adventure of it all. She brought both talent and joy to the process.”

“She’s brilliant,” said co-star Donald Sutherland. “She's just truthful. When she feels something it appears and it's perfect.”

Jeff Dorchen saw Larson in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and was spellbound. “I’ve had actors bring my words to life and it’s really thrilling when it happens, but Brie brought this reality through it, this extra facet to it. When we played the vocals that we were going to use for playback that she sang, you just felt lifted up.”

“She is a breath of fresh air,” agreed Scott Bakula. “She's uniquely natural and very unprepossessing. She's confident and yet she's available and she's beautiful actress inside and out. That's been really fun, to get to know her and work with her.”

The casting of esteemed veteran Donald Sutherland as the evil CEO Gurgon lent the production additional credibility and thrilled the filmmakers and actors. “When I heard that Donald Sutherland was going to be in this movie, I said, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said Jeff Dorchen. “It was surreal. It was like a dream.”

“Working with Donald was an incredible experience that is a highlight of my life,” said Danny Baron. “He is such an amazing professional. The first day he arrived in India he invited me to his room and there’s this inquisition. He pulls out the script and it’s got like a hundred little post-its inside. He wasn’t just asking questions about his own stuff, but why things are happening in the script. He’s always the first one on the set and he never leaves until his part is shot out. These were all very long days and frequently we would shoot as long as people were conscious, and sometimes, in order to save energy for the next day, actors might finish and go home. I gave Donald the opportunity to leave and he said, ‘What are you talking about? My scene isn’t done. My presence here is needed. I don’t leave until the scene is done being shot.’ Donald has been acting for over half a century and he doesn’t need to try anything new or take any risks but here he is singing for the first time on camera in his life.”

“Donald Sutherland is one of the most captivating actors I’ve ever worked with,” said Brie Larson. “The second he’s on set, you can feel his presence. He has a tough role in that he’s the villain giving us the ‘song and dance’ in order to send me to India.”

“My character is incredibly resistant,” Brie continued, “and in my head I was like, ‘There’s no way that he could convince me.’ After one day I was like, ‘I’ll go. I’ll do whatever you’ll say.’ He’s just so captivating.”

Saahil Sehgal, who plays William, was speechless upon learning that he would be working with Donald Sutherland. “I walked into the costumes room and I saw a cast list there. I see my name, I see Brie’s name, which I knew about, and then I see Donald Sutherland’s name. I’m just looking at it for almost 45 seconds, not saying anything but ‘What??’ because I mean, he’s a legend! It was absolutely surreal for me to just see his name on that list!”

Energetic on set, Sutherland impressed the crew with his vigor and wit, and ability to shift gears seamlessly. “Getting the chance to work with Donald Sutherland is – well, you just can’t imagine that you’d ever get a chance to work with someone like him,” Scott Bakula praised. “I’ve loved his work because it’s been so diverse and so different. He’s an actor’s actor.”

“Just the sheer fact of Donald being willing to go to India I thought was amazing,” said Caulfield. “It’s no joke traveling in India. The flight is well over twenty hours to get there. He brought his wife, Francine, and they brought so much heart to the production. This was a very scrappy independent movie and Donald just comes in with a generous spirit and he’s such a pro.”

In one scene, Donald Sutherland and Tyne Daly were aboard a live train, playing off each other and improvising as they traveled through stations. “It’s not rear-projection, you’re actually seeing Donald Sutherland and Tyne Daly going through India on a train, “ Baron chuckled.

“Imagine,” said Caulfield, “Tyne Daly and Donald Sutherland on a moving train hurtling through India. It was an amazing, amazing day on set.”

Primetime Emmy© and Tony Award©-winner Tyne Daly, who plays Evelyn, Gurgon’s wicked Number Two, has known Donald Sutherland for years, “… since all of our children were in kindergarten together,” said Daly. “We've never had an opportunity to work together. He's an American treasure, and he's a movie treasure. The fact that I get to play his lieutenant and be at his shoulder the whole movie is very gratifying. I had a ball.”

“Working with Tyne Daly was joyous,” said Baron, “from the second that we found out we could have her. Because if you want someone who can sing the song and you can get Tyne Daly, you are extremely lucky. But I never worked with her before, so I didn't realize what an incredible experience that would be. While we were shooting the song, 'Greater Good,' a dancer missed her cue and accidentally whacked Tyne pretty hard. We heard a scream and we went running and Monique was very concerned and asked if Tyne wanted to take some time to recover. Tyne looked up and said, 'Not a chance! The show must go on.' So we kept shooting.”

Daly brings her extraordinary pedigree in acting and musical theatre to the production. “I found out about Basmati Blues through my daughter's boyfriend, who's a massage therapist and likes to write music,” said Daly. “He knows Danny and Monique.” Daly trained for musical theatre at the American Music and Dramatic Academy.

“The differences between doing a movie musical and a musical on the stage are many,” Daly said. “On the stage, you get to tell the story from beginning to end every night, and you've already learned your job. In the movies, you do little bits and pieces here and there, and from time to time everybody says, ‘Well, let's try this.’ It's a little more dangerous, but it's not less fun.”

“Tyne’s remarkable,” said Scott Bakula. “She's a musical theater person like me so we have a lot in common. She has a wealth of musical theater history stored in her brain and is constantly bursting into the full set of lyrics from any number of songs, from any number of musicals, which is awesome. We had a blast together.”

Daly performs with Donald Sutherland in one of the film’s big Bollywood productions. “It’s dancing and singing and very dangerous moving furniture and stuff,” Daly describes, laughing. “It's basically a fantasy sequence with Saahil (William). We had exactly one day to shoot it and we had no days to rehearse it. I was looking forward to a lot of practice before we put it on film, and we didn't get that. I got to record the song after I learned it for half a day, and they recorded it forever.”

Some members of the crew watched Daly perform while filming and were surprised and impressed to see that the actor/singer does not lip-sync on the set. “She really sings it,” one said. “You see it on the monitor, you can feel it, you can hear her sound. She’s got such a great voice.”

“She's old school musical theater, just belting this stuff out,” said Dorchen about Daly. “It's really just what you want. Donald, too, gave stuff that was unexpected and brought additional life.”

This was Daly’s first trip to India. “I wished there was more time to look around,” she said, “but this was a work situation. You always think you're going to be able to look at the country, but what you see is the hotel and the set, and the hotel and the set, then the set and then the hotel.”

“The big town, Mumbai, is like a lot of big towns, as the world gets more homogeneous,” Daly said. “But coming south, driving through the countryside in the early morning and seeing the lay of the land and the green stuff and the broad life… I asked my driver to not play rock and roll but to play Indian music, because the visual should have a proper soundtrack.”

Relaxing with Tyne at the end of the shoot, Caulfield said, “'You’re quite a woman, Tyne.’ She laughed and said, ‘Honey, I'm not a woman. I'm not a lady. I'm a broad.’ That kinda summed it up. She’s done it all, Tyne Daly.”

Indian actor Utkarsh Ambudkar plays Linda’s love interest, Rajit. “Utkarsh is a wonderful actor,” said Jeff Dorchen. “We heard about him when a youtube video parody of M. Night Shyamalan he was working on was sent to us. “

Baron met with Ambudkar to discuss the role, and the director was pleased that the young actor immediately understood both what the story was about and what his character was about. But it was the pairing with Larson that clinched the decision. “As soon as you saw them on screen, they have this really great chemistry,” said Baron. “We all looked at each other – me and Monique and Jeff (Dorchen) and Jeff (Soros) and said, 'This is it. These two are the heart of the movie.'”

“Utkarsh brings a lot when he comes on set, “said Caulfield. “He likes to riff and play with lines and there was a lot of spontaneity on set. That was great. It also created a playful environment which helped with the ongoing challenges of shooting in India. Utkarsh lights up when he's on screen and he's a great singer, not to mention a rapper and comic. So between Brie and Utkarsh, we had our lovers.”

Actor Saahil Sehgal plays William, the young lawyer who completes the love triangle with Linda and Rajit. “William is essentially a good guy at heart,” said Sehgal, “but is swayed by all the dreams of grandeur and New York and Manhattan and being rich.”

“Saahil was in India and we were in the US while we were casting, so we had a bunch of meetings over the phone,” said Baron. “When he auditioned you could see he could embody this person and bring both the sincerity and the stiffness that you need to create this character.”

“Saahil Sehgal is really handsome,” Dorchen laughed, “so it’s really hard to sympathize with him. But William requires this. He’s a full human being and Saahil actually brings that. Saahil is a wonderful guy by the way. He deserves to be in there.”

Sehgal’s enthusiasm for working with Donald Sutherland turned briefly to anxiety as he approached their first scene. “ I couldn’t even begin to fathom what it would be like when I would actually be on set with him,” he said. But Sehgal had the unexpected pleasure of going down in history. “I’m lucky enough to be the first guy that Donald sings to in his career spanning 50 years,” he grinned.

Scott Bakula plays Eric, Linda’s father in Basmati Blues. “The big hook for me was the music,” said Bakula. “Being in the music and musical theater business for years, singing in a movie sounded good. Singing in a movie that takes place in India was very intriguing, also.”

The layers of genre and subject matter and the texture of cross-cultures appealed to Bakula. "I've got to go meet this guy and see if he’s out of his mind,” Bakula, speaking about meeting Baron, laughed, “because clearly, he doesn't know what he's getting into. It was intriguing to me that anybody would be taking on a project like this, short of Baz Luhrmann. Now, I'm in an original movie with original music from these insane creative minds. It ups the bar.”

“Scott is just great,” said Baron. “We always thought he would be good for the part but he is such an unbelievable pleasure to work with as well. He’s the kind of guy who elevates the whole experience for everybody when he walks on set.”

“Scott Bakula in an angel of this Earth,” said Brie Larson. “He's just so loving and so sweet, which was exactly what I think we could use more of, which is more heart. He brings so much love and heart into this film.”

The role of Eric was originally written without a song, but when Bakula was cast, Baron and Caulfield knew they needed to add one. “So now we have this character singing about his daughter, about the world, and about life. Scott’s presence inspired our ability to make that song happen.” “For me,” said Caulfield, “Scott Bakula is one of those people that any time he was on the call sheet, I knew we were going to have a good day. He’d bring such a great attitude to the set. It’s tough shooting in India, it's hot, it's dusty, and one day, we had something come up that caused a delay. Somebody made a comment about being frustrated about waiting, and Scott said, ']I love acting. The acting is free. They pay me to wait. Waiting’s just part of the job.' Wow, what a class act. Scott Bakula is a class act.”

While casting, the filmmakers discovered a rich pool of acting talent in India. Suhasini Mulay, who plays Rajit’s mother, is an established and successful actor in her own country. “Suhasini is an Indian icon,” said Baron, “and she was an easy choice for us but not easy to get. We were very lucky to have her. Dalip Tahil who plays the Chief Constable has done many things both in India and in England and was on a huge show there called The East Enders. He brought his own mustache man, a guy whose only job was to open up a thing and show me and say, ‘Which mustache do you think is right?’ And sure enough there's a police chief in the south that has a certain kind of moustache. You put that on and he became the part. Lakshmi we’ve seen in other films. We really wanted her. She is a radiant presence. The camera loves her, other actors love working with her and she's just the kind of person where as soon as she walks on the screen she lights it up so we wanted to make sure her schedule was open.”

“Danny had written a tiny part for me just so I would be a part of the film,” said Manchu “”They said they had a bigger part for me, if I would be willing to audition for it. I said, ‘Yes, sure. Why not?’ Then I auditioned and I got the part.”

Baron explained the role of the farmers. “The farmers are like our Greek chorus, they're this constant presence throughout the film. They’re commenting on things and much of the tone of the film relied on them being both authentic farmers and good actors. We went through hundreds of people and we found a group that were living in the city and acting but had real experiences in rural areas.”

Basmati Blues is a musical comedy that follows Linda Watt (Academy Award®-winner Brie Larson), a sheltered but brilliant young scientist who is plucked out of her company’s lab and sent to India by her CEO (Donald Sutherland) to sell “Rice 9,”
a genetically modified rice she’s created – unaware that the rice will destroy the Indian farmers she thinks she’s helping. Her life turns upside down as she discovers the truth and falls in love.

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