The White Tiger

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The White Tiger is a rags to riches tale set in India about an impoverished young man. I wasn’t going to make a facile comparison to Slumdog Millionaire. The screenplay already does that for me. It occurs late in the movie in a scene where our central “hero” is commenting on the hopelessness of his situation. In the moment he opines: “Don’t think for a second there’s a million-rupee game show you can win to get out.” OK so now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s evaluate this most absorbing film. It deserves to be considered on its own terms. Yes, there are some obvious similarities to that much lauded Best Picture winner of 2009, but this is a much bleaker and less optimistic account about finding success in life.

The White Tiger is a crime drama about a young man named Balram (Adarsh Gourav) who is a “self-taught entrepreneur”. As the narrator, he recounts his story. Balram was born into a poor rural village and gradually climbs India’s ostensible corporate ladder to become a chauffeur and finally a successful businessman. The highly intelligent Balram is prohibited from obtaining a higher education because of his father’s debts. Instead, he goes around to various houses and begs for a job until he just so happens to stumble upon the residence of the Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) — one of the four evil landlords that bullies his town. The Stork hires Balram to become his son’s driver. Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) has just returned from America with his wife Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra). At first, Balram is more of a drudge to the family, while another servant, Ram Persad (Ram Naresh Diwakar), has the elevated privilege of driving them. This will change in time. As we see time and again, Balram’s quest for upward mobility is not guided by a moral compass.

Sometimes good people do bad things. Balram is actually a sweet and humble guy. That likable quality endears him to Ashok and his wife so they trust him. In fact, his obsequious manner incurs the condemnation of the couple who implore him not be so deferential. Nevertheless, you will later see that Balram’s inclination for exploiting the negative beliefs and corrupt tendencies of others, will ultimately help him climb the ranks of Indian society. For example, he abuses the fact that the Stork is openly hostile to Muslims in order to further his own career at the expense of a fellow worker. The film is filled with political commentary on the caste system of India. This is a fascinating fable and I was riveted by the twists and turns. It’s an epic of sorts and a lot transpires. The overriding lesson is that the freedom to succeed isn’t free. It must be taken.

American director Ramin Bahrani is no stranger to depictions of misery. His 99 Homes was a vicious excavation of the American housing market. This likewise is a bleak adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 picaresque novel of the same name. Incidentally, the first half is rather brilliant. Regrettably it’s in the second half where this chronicle loses steam. Balram’s social-climbing saga is pretty grim. Given that, Slumdog Millionaire comparisons are somewhat misleading. I saw more parallels to a crime drama like Scarface or perhaps the protagonist of a Patricia Highsmith thriller. Let’s not forget the Best Picture winner of 2020 either. They are all in there and yet The White Tiger is compelling without ever reaching the sublime heights of any of those influences . On the whole, it’s still extremely entertaining and incidentally my #1 recommendation when considering new offerings on Netflix at this moment.

P.S. I recommended His House back in November and that’s still available on Netflix.


2 Responses to “The White Tiger”

  1. I was really into this, however, I didn’t agree with all his decisions. I was entertained. 3 1/2 ⭐️


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