Wealth inequality is sadly a universal topic. And in recent film, this has been a popular subject across the world. So naturally, a high-profile release focusing on the caste system would see a release. Based on the 2008 novel of the same name, The White Tiger looks at the current state of India. Despite being a powerful economic leader, the country is still full of poverty and broken caste systems. And through a rags to riches story about a village boy becoming a successful entrepreneur, we have a dark, yet often funny story that shows the divisions between the rich and the poor, the servitude the poor are placed into, and how they can get out of it. Of course, getting to the top requires a lot of shifty actions.
From director Ramin Bahrani, known for making films about the impoverished underdogs, The White Tiger serves as a solid, if overlong, thrill ride, helped by a very strong lead actor and a compelling story that shows, yet again, the harmfulness of the wealthy.
The White Tiger Itself
The focal point of the film is Balram Halwai, played by Adarsh Gourav. And it’s Gourav’s performance that is easily the best aspect of the movie. Balram is far from a kind soul, but his situations and issues are understandable. He’s a great mind, but the world around him means he can’t take advantage of it. And in the first half, where things are more jovial, Gourav sells the naivete and recklessness of Balram.
It isn’t until the second half where Balram sees a heel turn and becomes more cunning and cruel. But thankfully, this transition is smooth and Balram is still sympathetic. Not just due to director Ramin Bahrani, as well as the well-done screenplay, which does well in justifying Balram’s more criminal actions. It is through Adarsh Gourav’s performance where Balram’s journey works as well as it does. Gourav’s range is incredibly strong, and his appearance and charisma works wonders in making him a likable and interesting figure. I’m certain Adarsh Gourav will do great things in the future.
It’s through Barlam we are introduced to the inequality facing India. Both in how the rural innermost of the country is full of poverty and stress, and the urban side of the country is full of success and leisure. This soon leads to a memorable journey that shows how sometimes the only way you can get ahead is through trickery.
The White Tiger Eats the Rich
One of the more interesting pieces of the film’s execution is how it treats the upper class. It still paints them in a negative light, but there’s a very effective bait-and-switch here. Balram begins his journey as a driver to Ahsok, the son of a cruel landlord. Alongside his wife Pinky, a New Yorker who got swept into luxury, things seem very calm between the trio. There’s some passive-aggressiveness to the newlyweds, but Balram certainly can handle putting up with it.
But when one horrible event happens, it all comes crashing down. Their friendship is broken, and even knowing this is the wrong thing to do, Ahsok and Pinky just reluctantly put Balram to blame. Putting the poor down to keep themselves safe in their system. It’s absolutely brutal stuff that shows how wretched the privileged can be. Their wealth and stature is what they value above all else, even other lives.
This makes Balram’s arc all the more understandable. His development and shift throughout the film results in many wrongful moves, but it makes perfect sense in this film. If you want to stay alive, you have to play dirty. And while the film does lose momentum by the end, there’s enough witty writing and well-made sequences that help carry it through. The last few minutes really pack a punch, through an albeit pointless framing device where Balram emails then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
To Sum Up…
The White Tiger is solid enough stuff. It certainly isn’t the deepest film to tackle its subjects, but works well enough as an engaging, darkly humorous drama. It’s pretty much inevitable Adarsh Gourav’s set to do great things in the future, and I am excited to see what is in store for both him and director Ramin Bahrani’s future work.
Read my other Netflix reviews here