The White Tiger, the new Netflix original movie directed by Ramin Bahrani, is that aggressive critique of the class divide in our society. The story is about the determination of someone who knew the uneven social landscape and made the “smart” choice at the right time. It might feel like problematic heroism, but eventually, The White Tiger asks us to look at the troubling class divide that none of us cared to alter.
Balram Halwai, our central protagonist, is from a poor village in North India. He wanted to study and become someone with power and identity, but the social structure sort of ruined all his opportunities to flourish. As he became older, he started to make a plan for himself to rise above others and one way he found for that was to become a loyal driver to his master. The seemingly posh (compared to people in his own class) driver-life of Balram and the timely shifts he made in that career is what we see in Bahrani’s The White Tiger.
The movie is based on Arvind Adiga’s book of the same name, and I haven’t read that book, so as always, this won’t be a book versus movie comparison. One could easily have the one dilemma while watching this English movie about India: how authentic it is when it comes to depicting the real India? Western cinema is known for its exaggerated portrayal of misery in countries like India. And The White Tiger is about someone from the lower segment of the society making his way up to the ladder in a somewhat crooked way. The movie’s chief minister character is always referred to as “The Great Socialist,” and the caricature element in that addressing sort of answers the dilemma.
I wouldn’t call The White Tiger a movie with a pertinent theme. The class divide we have in this country is more like a backdrop to the story and what we see here is a very aggressively paced rags to riches story of a guy who is never your hero at any point. Ramin Bahrani narrates this story through voice-overs mainly, and it has this constant arrogant tone from the protagonist. He is blaming the flawed social structure for all his deeds, and you don’t really have a counter-argument for that. This uncomfortable space of this movie is what makes it engaging. The Fat Belly versus Flat Belly politics gets a very entertaining on-screen depiction. Paolo Carnera’s cinematography depicts the extreme contrast of the flashy metros and hopeless rural India very effectively.
Adarsh Gourav, a relatively unfamiliar face (wiki says he was last seen in Late Sridevi’s MOM), delivers a remarkable performance as the determined Balram. It’s a character that doesn’t have the scope to be likable at any point as he is driven by hatred, and Gourav performs the two different tones of this character with astonishing conviction. Rajkummar Rao, as Ashok the boss, felt a bit unclear when you consider the bar he has set for himself. It’s not that he has done a bad performance or something. In a movie where he felt like the second most important character, neither his performance nor the writing gave that character a sense of significance. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is there is a character that looks more like an extended cameo.
The flawed and cunning central protagonist of our story is the USP of The White Tiger. That character somewhere manipulates you to forget about the image of the country it tries to portray and invest in this fictional setting where someone uses the tools and mannerisms of the powerful class to become another powerful entity.
It might feel like problematic heroism, but eventually, The White Tiger asks us to look at the troubling class divide that none of us cared to alter.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended