Cast: Adarsh Gaurav, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkumar Rao
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Scene 1, we see a car being driven recklessly through the mid night Delhi streets. In the driver’s seat and beside are a posh-looking couple, in hysterics and driving like crazy. In the backseat is a man dressed quite comically like a typical Indian ‘maharaja’ of the British times. The scene ends abruptly in what we can assume to be a hit-and-run case.
Iranian American director Ramin Bahrani’s ‘The White Tiger’ is a screen adaptation of Arvind Adiga’s Man-Booker award winning novel of the same name. Much like the book, the movie is a brutally honest representation of India’s socio-economic divide, the rampant caste system (what our protagonist describes as “those with big bellies and those with small bellies”), the unnecessary mistreatment of the rich towards their poor servants, the caste-inherited privilege and wealth, the promises made by politicians which are never fulfilled, how the underprivileged are stuck in ‘rooster-coops’, accepting misfortune as their inherent destiny. The film shows all that and much more.
The ‘maharaja’ of our first scene is Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gaurav), a boy from an underprivileged family in an extremely underdeveloped North India village called Laxmangarh. The ‘neta’ of the village (Mahesh Manjrekar) and his elder son (Vijay Maurya) habitually exploit and torture the villagers for money. Balram had grown up witnessing all this and had a burning resentment inside him towards the Stork’s (that is what he calls the ‘neta’) family. As a kid, Balaram had been exceptional in studies, but after his father’s death, was forced to work in a local tea-shop, hammering coal. But he was the rebel, he refused to accept this as his fate. So when the Stork’s younger son Ashok (Rajkumar Rao), returned from the US and stepped foot on the village, Balram decided that Ashok would be his path to freedom. Director Bahrani incorporates almost romanticism in the scene when Balram first sees Ashok and decides, “He will be my master.” The story is about how Balram utilizes his wit and cunning to get a job as a driver for Ashok and ultimately grows out to be a ‘Slumdog millionaire’.
The movie not only depicts the stark contrast between the upper and the lower caste but also the two sides of the upper caste coin itself, in the form of Ashok and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) on one side and Ashok’s father and elder brother on the other. While his dad and brother consider it their right to regard their servants as ‘sub-human’, Ashok and Pinky are the ones who treat Balram with equal respect. Do we smell America’s typical mindset on how India’s rich are the ones actually imposing the caste system, and how Ashok and Pinky, being from America, are much more sensitive people, free of such mentality? We do, but we can’t really say he is wrong!
Coming to acting, the cast justified their roles well. Rajkumar Rao’s acting skills have been flawless as always, whereas Priyanka Chopra Jonas is just alright. Though she brings out Pinky’s character well, we could have expected something more out of a seasoned actress like her. However, Adarsh Gaurav literally steals the show here. Balram’s character has shown a vast range of emotions and transformations throughout the movie. Adarsh justified it all. The supporting cast is strong too, though Kamlesh Gill deserves special mention as Balram’s nasty grandmother.
One thing worth mentioning here is how Ramin Bahrani has expanded Pinky’s character into a woman worth mentioning from a sketchy and unimportant character in Adiga’s book. One little glitch. Balaram’s narration of the story in the opening lines sound strained and exaggerated in accent, a clear depiction of how Hollywood thinks Indian’s speak English. Thankfully it tones down as the movie progresses.
All in all, The White Tiger is quite an intelligently made dark humor movie that brutally exposes the nation’s truths while also building up a well-knit, somewhat suspenseful storyline. It is a treat to watch.