The White Tiger Review: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao and Adarsh Gourav bring a satirical and riveting commentary on class-based Indian society
Film: The White Tiger
Cast: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vijay Maurya
Director: Ramin Bahrani
OTT: Netflix and select theatres
Rating: 4 Moons
Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Man-Booker prize winning novel The White Tiger is a story of servitude, resentment, love, ambition and daring. The Netflix film is powered by the satirical pessimism that underlines the story in the book and brings to fore the ambiguous and love-hate relationship between a servant and his master in the Indian society which is plagued by the caste and class distinction and the vast gap between the rich and the poor.
The White Tiger stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vijay Maurya and others and is an anti-thesis to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire that depicted India’s poor to the western world but portrayed them through the rose-rimmed glasses of the foreigners and failed to scratch beneath the surface. The White Tiger is an engrossing tale of servant and master where the former must try to rise above his predicament if he is lucky or else wallow in his own deprived birth-ridden ditch for entirety.
The White Tiger is about a loyal chauffer-cum-personal attendant to a corrupt landlord in India who bears all treatment meted out towards him (whether good or bad) with a smile. However, the smile is ambiguous as he is not sure whether he loves the master behind the façade of hatred or hates him behind the mask of love. His smile is also testimony to the survival struggle that is prevalent in India and other developing countries where we find several ‘Yes Men’ whether it is in corporate or global MNCs.
Adarsh Gourav plays Balram Halwai, the driver-cum-servant who is the proverbial ‘White Tiger’ of lore. He is the once-in-a-generation figure with the foresight and daring to walk out of the hell-hole he was born into. The exceptionally bright lad had to leave his studies midway to start working for a wretched landlord (played by Mahesh Manjrekar) to make ends meet for his own family. As the ambitious, sharp, intelligent and opportunistic Balram, Adarsh gives a tremendous performance. The debutant actor is a revelation to watch on screen and manages to keep the audience’s attention focused on himself with his riveting portrayal. He plays the perfect titular character of Adiga’s novel and is a strong contender for earning a nomination for the Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Rajkummar Rao as the liberal, tolerant younger son Ashok of the landlord can’t bear to even hear himself dehumanize the working class into fodder and tries to be civil to Balram, however, up to a certain point. But a terrible accident brings their master-servant relationship to breaking point and Balram’s self-hate to a crescendo. Rajkummar is suave, sophisticated and sly and shines in his somewhat diabolical character as he remains the ‘little boy’ in the room when faced by his father’s rule in the household.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Rajkummar’s Indian-American wife Pinky is broadminded and Balram’s bodega-raised outsider ally who is also a ‘nobody’ in the patriarchal Indian household. She has not succumbed to the adage that the lower caste people are scums and completely worthless and wants to help them. A social climber herself, her efforts to win over her husband’s manservant goes only as far as when the crisis rears its ugly head she must choose between truth and deceit. Priyanka brings an endearing quality and breath-of-fresh air with her acting in The White Tiger. She plays the Indian-born-American to the T and makes an arresting watch with her persona on screen. PC has also co-produced the film and going by the spectacular reviews in international media, the film is said to be eligible for 14 categories in Academy Awards.
Bahrani’s direction does justice to Adiga’s gripping novel and he manages to bring the sights and sounds of India in a beautiful tapestry. The film is a dangerous adventure of self-betterment in a man-kill-man world. Bahrani shows a reverent fidelity to his novelist friend’s work and keeps the ending open for the audience to take their own lessons from the film. His film teases the sadomasochistic relationship between Balram and Ashok and brings a closure with a single choice of words that define their bond forged on shards of glass. The White Tiger rigorously examines and shatters Hollywood and Bollywood stereotypes and comes pretty close to reality.
PeepingMoon.com gives The White Tiger 4 Moons.