The White Tiger: Priyanka Chopra’s latest film is a story of India’s deep rooted caste system
“The Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, all the same time.”
If you haven’t read the book, Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger may initially seem like a story of entrepreneurship. But, the film has many layers, and especially highlights the issues of caste and class prevalent in India and the power associated with it.
The adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize winning novel by the same name, the film has been creating waves since the release of its trailer. The movie premiered on Netflix on January 22, and has been trending at #1 on Netflix India ever since. It stars Adarsh Gaurav, Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the leading roles.
A scene from the movie The White Tiger which stars Adarsh Gaurav, Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the leading roles
Protagonist Balram Halwai (played by Adarsh) is an underclass village lad whose ultimate goal in life is to serve as a driver to his master Ashok (Rajkumar Rao). Slapped, kicked, and rebuked by Ashok and his family, Balram takes no offence and bears the brunt of being a servant to an upper-caste master, without defence. Priyanka, who plays Ashok’s American-Indian wife, fits the role just right, especially with her accent.
Much like the book, the film uses a lot of animal imagery. Balram compares India’s underclass society and their condition to that of chickens stuck inside rooster coops — the greatest thing to come out of India in its 10,000 years of history. He keeps bringing back this comparison throughout the film.
“They (chickens) can see and smell the blood, they know they are next, yet they don’t rebel. They don’t try to get out of the coop,” much like the servant class of India who have accepted their fate.
The White Tiger is streaming on Netflix
The protagonist also calls people he hates with names of animals. He addresses the village landlord as the Stork, and his elder son, as the Mongoose.
Filmed in flashbacks, the movie reveals that Balram is currently an established entrepreneur in India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru. He is the founder of White Tiger Drivers, a taxi service company for call centres.
He narrates his story of changing his fate from being a servant to a master in the form of an email to China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who was visiting Bengaluru to meet India’s leading entrepreneurs.
Turns out Balram is one of his kind, and rarest of rare — a white tiger. Often embarrassed about the decisions he made and the crimes [spoiler alert!] he committed to reach where he is today, he is glad of how things turned out at the end. He is a self-made hero and takes pride in treating his drivers as employees, and not as his servants — as opposed to how his ‘master’ treated him.
A scene from The White Tiger
Adarsh Gaura, last seen on the silver screen in Sridevi-starrer Mom, owns the film. The 26-year old has outdone National Film Award winners Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in his acting.
Mahesh Manjrekar, who plays the Stork, and Vijay Maurya (the mongoose), have limited time in front of the camera, are underused, and mostly seen shouting curse words in Hindi.
Every time a book is adapted into a film, book readers are always trying to assess if a director would live up to the plot of the book. Bahrani’s The White Tiger will satisfy the ones who loved the book as the film replicates Adiga’s novel almost to the last detail. The film delivers the exact images that readers might have imagined. Bahrani shot the sequences straight, with no exaggeration whatsoever.
The drama-packed film often reminds one of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, especially with its portrayal of master-servant relationship and that of India’s slums, respectively.
By the end of the film, the audience is left wondering if they should sympathise with Balram the hero, or hate the anti-hero for being disloyal and becoming the master himself.
The film has a total of eight tracks, including Panjabi MC’s famous early 20s number Mundian to Bach Ke. The last song, Jungle Mantra is a DIVINE feat Vince Staples and Pushpa T number is in tune with Balram’s changing mentality of transforming from a servant to an entrepreneur.
While many are criticising the film for its shallow and one-sided portrayal of India, it does manage to strike a chord with several scenes. The film seems to be at par with the events shaping up in our country. In the first half of the film when Balram’s father is diagnosed with tuberculosis and ultimately dies because of lack of medical care, he carries his father to the burning ghat and says:
“I understood in this moment, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in India.”
P.S. Aravind Adiga had dedicated his book The White Tiger to Ramin Bahrani, and the two happen to be long-time friends.