Available On: Netflix
Duration: 125 Minutes
Story: The White Tiger based on Aravind Adiga's book of the same name follows the life of Balram Halwai. Born in India's overarching darkness of perpetual servanthood and poverty, Balram seeks a life in the light and aims for a life of freedom and financial prosperity.
Review: In an interview, Ramin Bahrani while talking about directing The White Tiger had said that the film cannot be the book. Agreed, no one expects it to be, but while we have been led to believe that the story is about Balram's success we hardly see any of it. The film focuses more on the dark side of the system, the dark side of the country and makes you feel like it's all your fault. It makes me wonder if any politicians will raise an objection to this film as well, claiming India is not all bad where politicians take bribes from businessmen and lay off taxes worth lakhs of rupees.
Balram Halwai (played by Adarsh Gourav) starts the story with a standard narration, complaining about choosing from more than 36 million gods to worship and the divide in caste and wealth in India. Born in a small village Laxmangarh, owned by a businessman, Balram had a promising future. Smarter than any other student he was also promised a scholarship in Delhi but the weight of poverty steals the chance from him. He is forced to work at a tea shop but he never stops learning from his customers.
Adarsh Gourav As Balram Halwai
In an attempt to break free from the servitude, Balram becomes the driver of Laxmangarh's landlord's son, Ashok (played by Rajkummar Rao). The America return son has a wife, Pinky (played by Priyanka Chopra) who has managed to break free from the shackles of her own life. While under their wing, Balram's mind wishes to break free from the coop. However, he still believes in his masters and thinks of them as his family. The ultimate betrayal comes when they make him confess to a crime he didn't commit because of his status and hold it against him. After years of emotional and behavioural abuse, Balram finally breaks free, in the ugliest way possible.
Rajkummar Rao as Ashok
The screenplay presents Balram as a strong-willed character from the start who is willing to grow out of poverty but his willingness into servitude contradicts his nature. After Pinky's influence, he finally wakes up but instead of giving the audience the moment of triumph they are waiting for, the story spends another forty minutes as he loses his mind after feeling betrayed.
The character's motives falter so often that the makers had to introduce constant narration to ensure the audience is following the story's direction. Unfortunately, it also forces the viewers to experience the story through a glass wall, not giving them a chance to feel for any of the characters. That does not mean, The White Tiger has failed its audience completely.
Priyanka Chopra as Pinky Madam
The film stars slow and is almost always in your face, about its problems, about the state of the country and it keeps you very aware that there is nothing you can do about it. The filmmaker makes you feel helpless as you watch these characters commit crime after crime, without any consequence, much like life. It provides a strong commentary on the struggles of India's working class and breaking free from what one believes is his or her destiny.
We get some good scenes that compare the drastic difference in life, some of the narration adapted from the book also give incredible metaphors adding dept to the visual presentation. But it does not make up for the lack of a satisfactory end. The audience spends two hours watching him getting kicked to the curb, waiting to see him climb the ladder, build a life of his own. Despite being a murderer, we root for him and in return, all the audience gets is a five-minute flash forward of how he became an entrepreneur. Half of the story comprised into just minutes of narration.
The White Tiger Is Now Streaming On Netflix
Adarsh Gourav leads the film with much power, whether as the servant or the ragged man or the entrepreneur. His performance makes you want to look away at the same time, you don't want to miss it. Priyanka Chopra even in her short role and stolen moments leaves a strong presence. She makes you wait for her next scene. However, Rajkummar Rao who has the most screen time, second to the lead, plays a caricature representation of an NRI, even if you want to you can't sympathise with him.
Overall, The White Tiger is made for audience with great patience. The film has a lot to offer and has an amazing cast to support the dark and gritty mood. But given how grim the world already feels, the audience may not want to face the weight of the world when trying to get away from it.