The White Tiger Movie Review
Based on the 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger is a movie that narrates Balram Halwai’s cynical take on the servitude of the lower class and corruption of the upper class in India. The film is directed by Ramin Bahrani and produced by both Mukul Deora and Ramin Bahrani.
The story centers around our main character, Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a smart young boy who lives in a poor village in Laxmangarh. Balram once received an academic scholarship to Delhi and was then told that he is a “white tiger”, a creature that is born only once in a century. However, as his family was in debt, Balram is forced to stay in Laxmangarh and help run a tea stall for money.
While eavesdropping into a conversation while running the tea stall, Balram finds an opportunity to be the secondary chauffeur of the wealthy landowner’s son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas) who both recently returned from the United States. Balram aspires to be more, so when he finds out the primary chauffeur of the family is a Muslim, he exposes the primary chauffeur’s secret who was then fired. With the primary chauffeur gone, Balram gets to drive Ashok and Pinky to Delhi where they bribe Indian politicians to avoid paying tax. Despite this, Balram is fond of Ashok and Pinky as they treat him well compared to the other members of the family.
On Pinky’s birthday, Pinky and Ashok forces Balram to let Pinky drive. Drunk, Pinky accidentally hits and kills a child who was crossing the road. Balram was later forced to sign a confession that he was the one who knocked an unidentified object that night. Since then, Balram is left frustrated and completely changes his views on serving Ashok and his family. Pinky leaves Ashok for New York and Balram deceives Ashok by selling the car petrol and providing taxi services on the side. At one point, Balram overhears that Ashok is looking to replace him.
One night when Ashok is on his way to hand over a large sum of bribe, Balram murders him with a glass bottle and escapes Delhi with the bribe money. Balram evades capture, changes his name to “Ashok” and started a new taxi company in Bangalore. Having seen what Ashok has done, Balram bribes the local police to eliminate taxis without licenses and with that, his business boomed.
The White Tiger is a unique, unapologetic tale on a young man from rags to riches. It breaks the stereotype of the formula already set by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and shows how the hero of our story can become a villain to achieve success and still makes us sympathize and root for him at the same time. In fact, The White Tiger took a dig at its counterpart’s philosophy when it says, “Don’t think for a second there’s a million-rupee game show you can win to get out”.
The star of the entire film is no other than the newcomer Adarsh Gourav himself. Not only did he carry the movie as the main character like a pro, but his performance was also very nuanced and allows you to see Balram’s point of view as his character develops. From the scenes where Balram happily tells Pinky that all he wants is to serve his masters to the scene where Balram shouts at a beggar from pent-up frustration, Adarsh delivered convincingly throughout. Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao, being notably A-list starers, took a slight back seat and allowed the main character to shine as needed by the storyline.
One common problem I heard about The White Tiger is the language medium. Most of the film is narrated in English with very little Hindi used in certain scenes. On the contrary, I do not find this a problem at all. I think the director manages to use both languages rather efficiently in the film to contrast the difference between the educated and rich speaking in English and the poorer community speaking in Hindi. I understand that this may not be the case in India and the language usage might not depict reality, but for an English language film, I find the usage effective.
If there is one thing I must complain about The White Tiger, it would be the ending. The whole movie was extremely gripping until the last few moments after Balram killed Ashok. In my opinion, the scenes where Balram starts building his empire felt rather rushed and could have been fleshed out a lot more. When Balram was seen trying to talk to the Chinese premier in the end, I remember thinking, “Is that it? How can that be the ending?”. Somehow a movie with a strong beginning and weak ending feels more of a let-down than a movie with a weak beginning and a strong ending.
If anyone is wondering if it’s worth watching, I think it definitely is.
Streaming on Netflix