The White tiger represents a perfect marriage between a gifted filmmaker and an incendiary novel. Director Ramin Bahrani is a close friend of writer Aravind Adiga and has worked for years to bring this award-winning book to the big screen.
Bahrani has carefully incorporated the author’s first-person approach into his expansive narrative. This allows him to embrace all of the irony, sarcasm, and contradiction that go into telling a saga. Balram (perfectly played by Adarsh Gourav) is a dirt poor villager who travels to town to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Yet he is inextricably linked with a fate that generations of impoverished ancestors have determined for him: to spend his life as a willing, self-sacrificing servant. This trodden path is illustrated by a visual metaphor that I will not reveal – and that I will never forget.
Balram is taken in to a wealthy Bangalore family with two adult sons, one of whom (Rajkumar Rao) has spent just enough time in the United States to have conflicting feelings about the caste system. He feigns brotherly feelings towards Balram, who becomes his driver, but in truth he is just as ruthless as his brutal father and older brother. His Americanized wife (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) is outwardly more understanding, but even her compassion has its limits.
At every corner of this exciting story, Balram is exposed to the corruption and amorality that seem to determine success in India. On the one hand, he strives to be just like his masters, but humility – to the point of submission – is so drawn into him that he cannot get rid of it.
There is no wrong note or step in Bahrani’s adaptation of The W.hite tiger. Long ago, the director proved himself to be an incomparable observer of human interaction in unforgettable films like this Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye solo. The opening sequence of his subsequent film 99 houses is another example of Bahrani’s extraordinary ability. His experience has borne the richest fruit to date in this dark, daring portrait of a country led by men without a conscience. The White tiger is an extraordinary film overall.
Now in theaters, the film debuts on Netflix on Friday, January 22nd.