The White Tiger is an adaptation from Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel. The film focuses on caste politics and shows the divide between rich and poor in India. It is a commentary about what’s wrong in our country. The film shows how the powerful still have control over those of lesser means, despite all the years of democracy. The film presents a somewhat biased worldview that argues crime and politics are the only ways to make the poor better. The film was directed by Ramin Bahrani for Western audiences. We see only abject poverty on one side and high-society life on the other. It’s almost as if the Indian middle class, the driving force behind the global economy through its purchasing power, doesn’t exist. This is a very simplistic way to divide the world into haves and have nots.
Balram Halwai, Adash Gourav) is at one end. He has studied little as a child and is fluent in Hindi. His ambition is to be the driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), his younger brother, Mahesh Manjrekar, his village zamindar. Ashok has studied in America and is married to Pinky Chopra (Priyanka Chpra), an Indian girl who was born in America. The zamindar (Vijay Maurya), and his older son (Zamindar) treat Balram as an animal. However, America’s returned Ashok and Pinky treat Balram as a human being. Pinky is the only humanitarian in the movie. He is constantly encouraged by her to rebel and not to take things too seriously. Pinky was also guilty of running over another child while drunk driving. Balram is blamed for this crime. It sounds familiar to an infamous hit-and-run case in Mumbai. He is unable to speak and decides to break the invisible chains surrounding him. This leads to a night full of crime, rebellion, and ultimately redemption.
There are many discrepancies in the screenplay. We don’t know why Ashok is doing so many deals in Delhi, despite his wishes. His brother and father are seen in the sleeper compartment of a train. This is a sign of ignorance, as it would be expected from a rich person. The most annoying thing about this is that Balram’s relatives, Balram, the drivers, speak English between themselves. A driver may speak English to his employer, but not in the company of his peers. Since when has the Pajero been the most luxurious car in Delhi for the wealthy?
The film, as I said, only hints at class, caste, and religious divisions. It barks, but it doesn’t bite. It could be the director’s ignorance about India. Adiga’s book may only serve as a guideline, or he was warned not to go too deep. It leaves you feeling unsatisfied, no matter what the reason. Exceptional acting helps to buoy the lack of depth. Priyanka Chopra gave a wonderful performance as Pinky, who isn’t used to the patriarchal ways her in-laws have and rebels openly against them. Their casual misbehaviours with servants are perfectly captured in her reactions. Her chemistry with Rajkummar Ro is also a joy. They look very much like a couple that doesn’t fit together and should return to America. Although we wish the film had more Priyanka, it is not Pinky’s story. Rajkummar Rao, who plays the role of the younger son, is so natural. He is caught between two extremes, and cannot decide which side he should take. Rao’s character’s helplessness is beautifully displayed by Rao. However, the film is largely Adarsh Gourav’s responsibility. Balram is his embodiment. His performance is so effortless that it’s easy to forget one’s actually watching an actor at work. It’s almost as if someone is watching him from a camera that follows him around, and can see his thoughts.
We will reiterate that The White Tiger was made with the Western audience mind. It further reinforces the stereotype that India is a third-world country. Its human drama is a joy to behold and it transcends the clichés.