The White Tiger an adaption of the Man Booker Prize-winning book of the same name. Directed by Ramin Bahrani, this movie is a twisted piece of art soaked out of the words of Arvind Adiga. “I had never seen a man so happy in the darkness.” This is a line from the monologue by Balram, the protagonist played by Adarsh Gourav. His is the story we’re following, quite literally in fact. This movie is in narration to the Chinese Prime Minister by Balram himself explaining his ride from a tea seller to an entrepreneur.
The story starts from the middle where a boy is hit by a car, a scene totally out of context but then it does travel back in time to the very beginning. India is two countries in one; an India of life, and an India of darkness. This story is about dark India, the one where the rich and poor are divided into men with big bellies and small bellies. It thrives on the single idea of a ‘Rooster Coop’ which is a metaphor used by Balram to explain how the men and women of India are trapped into official slavery. He tells us about the rich landlord played by the talented Mahesh Majrekar who used to own his village in historical India. He calls him the Stork and his older son is played by Vijay Maurya, the Mongoose -a very witty wordplay that reminds me of the classic novel, Animal Farm. Balram forcefully enters this rooster coop by becoming the driver and ‘yesman’ to his apparent master, Ashok, the lamb. Rajkumar Rao playing the master, Ashok has recently returned from America with his wife Pinky played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
The character build-up of every character in the story is so unique and brilliantly done by the director and the actors. In past interviews, Ramin Bahrani mentioned that he gave all his actors a lot of creative liberty to breathe in their character’s skin and what a wonder that trope has worked for this movie! Rajkumar Rao, although feels like untapped talent in the film, brings how much ever he can to the screen. His uncanny American accent does get in the way and makes a little seem unreal. With anti-racist thinking and tolerant open beliefs, he and his wife seem to be the better rich people to Balram but not for long. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is the only human-like character who at least tried to be humane to the likes of Balram. Even within the limits of her role, she is a strong character of femininity and not a traditional trophy wife. Balram, a very crafty and intelligent half-baked man who is the sole white tiger. White tiger as an animal is a unique creature who is born seldom into this world and when born, only to be extraordinary. Balram, a child who learnt English in his backward village despite the disparities fits the paws rightly.
Director Ramin Bahrani has made direction look effortless. His actors are comfortable and the screenplay is very intriguing. As a viewer, you want to know more at every turn and keeping your audience affixed to the story is one of the most important traits of a director. The cinematography makes sure to never let go of the darkness. The editing team has done some mind-blowing work. Some boggling transitions like a frame of hands beating coal moves onto a plate (half) full of food.
The White Tiger is not a homage to the former India-oriented Hollywood movie, Slumdog Millionaire but rather an angry answer to the same. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that this is not a fairytale that will leave you motivated or sympathising. This is a dark parallel of the world, selectively India, by the lower-cast poor stricken people like Balram who are not only fighting the society’s evil but also their own devils may it be from inside the family like a sly grandmother or their minds that betray rights and wrongs in order to escape the rooster coop. Besides loud Punjabi music, English songs run a vivid background score.
I wanted more from Ashok and Rajkummar Rao both. Delhi seemed underutilised by the cinematographers and production. The movie is originally in English seems a little weird at places where you know as a true Indian that they would never talk to each other in English but it isn’t lost at sea. It has justified almost all relevant wordplays and lingual shifts. The one actor who shines the brightest and really has the talent in him to roar the loudest (finally) is Adarsh Gourav. After his side-roles in MOM and a few more, he has finally proven his worth to Cinema. He has outdone himself with the accent, when he is speaking in English, I personally switched the language to Hindi to hear the voiceover and I wasn’t one bit disappointed.
The movie is made by a foreign director, played by Indian actors, and shot at multiple places. As an Indian viewer, I am thankful that we weren’t downsized to slums and poverty as always. In fact, I am glad to see this version of India where the perspective is of a poor man struggling through the surrounding riches to find his own. The story makes a blow at morality and practical living of humanity. If you like a powerful drama with unhinged darkness that will leave you with a new eye to India, watch The White Tiger. There is a scene in the first third of the film where Balram personifies the dictator landlord, The Stork as Mahatma Gandhi. I didn’t know who was right and who was wrong. This is in a sentence what this movie does to you.
Now streaming on Netflix.