- Adam Carr
The White Tiger (Review)
India looked at China as a technical and business rival in 2007. Both looked to catch the United States and surpass it in its influence. It was a time of economic acceleration for India and is the setting of director #RaminBahrani film "The White Tiger." Mr. Bahrani adapted the screenplay from the novel of the same name by #ArvindAdiga.
Set in such a time of opportunity for India "The White Tiger" is a film similar to many American classics where individuals had a chance to take full advantage of their eras to make fortunes out of nothing. Such films that come to mind are "Public Enemy Number One," "The Roaring Twenties," "Wall Street" and "Goodfellas."
We follow Balram Halwai (#AdarshGourav) who, from a strict caste system, lives in a poor village that has to pay off the landlord (#MaheshManjrekar). Balram makes his own destiny by following the landlord back to his home and using his cleverness becomes a driver for his son, Ashok (#RajkummarRao). As a driver, we have a front seat as Balram navigates toward new opportunities that are open to all Indians as a wave of technology innovations open up in the country. And its not an easy transformation.
The caste system is so ingrained in Indians' minds that those who are destined to be servers wouldn't even think about cheating their masters. But there is no reciprocation if the masters' comfort is compromised. It is only after such a betrayal that the very idea of subverting tradition takes hold of Balram. He takes advantage of side hustles he learns from other drivers. The only way to break the class barriers, as told to us from cinema and literature, is through tragedy. And in the midst of economic upheaval even tragedy won't show up on the radar. A perfect time for a servant to break the bonds from his master. This seems to be what Mr. Bahrani has interpreted from Mr. Adiga's novel. And such traditions aren't easily broken. They must be, literally and figuratively, violently eradicated.
Along with economic transformation comes a new set of Indians, raised and educated in America, with ideas and values that upend the traditionalists and caste system of India. Ashok's wife, Pinky (#PriyankaChopraJonas) represents this new generation of Indian. She is the first to challenge the assumed righteousness of the upper class's treatment of their servants. Balram finds her behavior odd but realizes for the first time this system might be flawed. It dawns on him that there might be other opportunities of which his masters would like to keep from him.
This is a story of a character named Balram but as told by Mr. Bahrani, and I suspect by Mr. Adiga as well, it is the story of the growing pains felt throughout India as she moved more toward Westernization during the dawning of the twenty-first century. Mr. Bahrani is masterful showing the pains of a country's people moving toward modernization. The similarities between "The White Tiger" and "Goodfellas" is uncanny not only in story but presentation. And that's a good thing. It doesn't so much copy "#Goodfellas" in as much as it uses the same techniques as #MartinScorsese did in the earlier picture. The narration, the early scenes from his childhood and the breaking down of the fourth wall all collaborated to keep the pace and drama up while detailing a way of life that maybe foreign to most Westerners. Mr. Bahrani adds a sound track infused with both Indian music and Western Hip-Hop of the time adding an exciting edge to the entrepreneurial fervor that gripped India and grips this film.
It all works. And even though we know where its headed Mr. Bahrani doesn't let on about how we're going to get there. "The White Tiger" is a ride worth taking. This is cinema for the twenty-first century. It can be seen on #Netflix.