The White Tiger
Cast: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao
Director: Ramin Bahranic
“The Indian entrepreneur must be honest and crooked at the same time, mocking and believing, cunning and sincere.”
Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), as he constantly breaks the fourth wall through dialogues and gestures, prepares us for the ‘dark times’. He asks us not to take the opening of the film at face value as his story is not what it seems to be.
Director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, 99 Homes) focuses on the tough choices made by an ambitious, quick learner and underhanded Jharkhand boy in The White Tiger, based on a synonymous book by Aravind Adiga. In doing so, he tries to explore the caste and economic divide and how they interrelate in modern India, which is not always about the radiant module projected onto the world. Most, however, fail to take a second look.
Gourav stands his ground against Priyanka Chopra, who is brimming with confidence and a fantastic screen presence, and Rajkummar Rao, who struggles during accent changes. Since the narrator and the main character are one, it must have been tedious for Bahrani to bring out many sides of the story, but he somehow manages to give the audience a picture of how the segregation between the countryside and the city could have worked during the early days of the liberal economy.
Despite promising a darker story at the outset, it rarely goes beyond the obvious. There’s no denying that the privileged part of the West may find some parts disturbing, but overall it doesn’t affect the level that you start to think about the natural progression that the story could have followed otherwise. Not comparable to Slumdog Millionaire, but Danny Boyle at least got the shock value optimal. Here Bahrani gets caught up in metaphors that don’t arouse curiosity or get totally lost in translation.
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I also have trouble celebrating grimness or justifying poverty or being underprivileged as the ultimate catalyst for crime, which is sadly the sole reason behind most of Gourav’s actions in the second half. Even if it’s not directly about the victim and the predator, you don’t want the creators cheering on the right person while they’re in the wrong courtroom.
Since a lot has changed since the book’s release in 2008, some plots could have been read in a new light. One thing that has categorically changed in the past 12-13 years is the raising of the high aspiration values of the youth, both in rural and urban areas. With the support of the government and some protection by law, young people would probably not go down the ambiguous path of fraud and crime. It is, however, debatable.
Streaming on Netflix in India, The White Tiger continues to tell its customers the same story about the poor guy turned criminals. It barely shows any intent to scratch beneath the surface. Not intriguing enough.
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