Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger is a faithful adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name. With excellent performances and an engrossing plot interspersed with social commentary, The White Tiger is easily one of the best films from Netflix in recent times.
In its essence, The White Tiger is a classic rags-to-riches story but is still fresh and novel.
It chronicles the story of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a low-caste village boy who is destined to be poor, being as he is, the son of a rickshaw-puller.
Balram is not one to accept this fate for himself, and when he learns that his landlord’s son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), is in need of a chauffeur, he knows it’s his only way to make it big in life. Balram learns how to drive, lands the job and begins to serve his masters, Ashok and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), with utmost loyalty.
But no matter how good he is, Balram is never able to rise above his caste and is only treated as a mere servant. When his masters get embroiled in a mess, he is unjustly made to take the blame which sows the seeds of rebellion in him.
Balram realises that he must break free from the shackles of poverty and from the “rooster coop”, which he describes as the perpetual oppression of Indian servants who are blinded by their loyalty, and he would do anything to that end.
The White Tiger sees superlative performances from all actors. Adarsh Gourav bagged his first lead role with Balram and serves up an impressive performance. The movie tests his emotional bandwidth as an actor, there are some moments where Balram is vulnerable, others where he’s brimming with anger, and Gourav never fails to deliver. He portrays Balram’s innocence, naivety, his angst and his moment of realisation all very well.
Rajkummar Rao is excellent as the U.S-returned Ashok, who sticks out like a sore thumb in his family of condescending patriarchs. There are moments where Rao’s performance lacks and times when his American accent sounds disturbing, but the actor makes up for all his errors through the course of the film.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ Pinky has a small role and not much screen-time, which is ironic given how she is responsible for that one evening that changes everybody’s lives. But even with her small role, Jonas leaves a mark.
Vijay Maurya and Mahesh Manjrekar’s performances make you scorn them, which is proof of a job well done.
The White Tiger has a simplistic yet dark and engaging storyline. A large chunk of its narrative is in the form of a flashback, and a very interesting one at that.
The film is sharp, crisp and keeps you glued to your screens for its entire two-hour runtime. It is filled with some genuine, pure moments, like when Balram counts the storeys of the building.
The White Tiger has rich social commentary, which is infused with the right amount of humour. It helps put across the message without being offensive.
The film also makes good use of imagery. There’s this one scene, where Ashok and Balram visit a temple and the former gives a note as his offering while the latter throws in a coin. The scene conveys so much about their class divide and the different worlds they come from, without any dialogues and without even showing the actors’ faces.
The writing, too, is excellent and some dialogues actually make you pause and reflect on them for a minute.
With spot-on performances and fine direction and cinematography, The White Tiger could very well be in the running for some major awards.
The final event that led to Balram’s rise to the top made the movie take a dark turn and was more than what the audiences might have bargained for.
At times, Rao seems to be trying too hard to sound American, which is a shame, because the actor is exceptionally good in the movie otherwise.
But apart from these minor snubs, The White Tiger stands tall.
A close relative of 2008’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, The White Tiger is realistic, refreshing and eye-opening in its own right. Its story, performances and director Ramin Bahrani’s tremendous efforts behind the scenes make it a must-watch.