The White Tiger (2021)
A raw look at class and culture
I knew very little about and had low expectations for Netflix’s The White Tiger, so I was pleasantly surprised when everything seemed to work on screen. While the story beats feel familiar, the dominant cultural themes make the movie feel entirely original. There’s an underlying message to the audience about today’s ‘third world’ becoming tomorrow’s ‘first world’. When the main character says “It’s the century of the brown man and the yellow man, and God save everybody else“, it’s hard not to pay attention to him.
Based on a 2008 novel by Aravind Adiga, Netflix’s The White Tiger follows Balram, a low caste Indian villager as he rises to entrepreneurship. With a plan to get himself out of poverty, Balram convinces his family to fund driving lessons so he could get a job as a driver for a rich family. Making himself an indispensable worker, he navigates a world of corruption and threats in order to achieve his ambitions.
I found The White Tiger incredibly refreshing. The main plot about a poor man climbing the socio-economic ladder is nothing new, but the world the story takes place in, is fascinating. To see someone born and raised in India suffering culture shock within India itself is eye-opening but unsurprising. The movie does a great job of shining a light on the paradoxical nature of the centuries-old caste system continuing to exist in a rapidly developing country. It’s a delicate subject matter that’s handled with the utmost respect.
In fact, The White Tiger excels at being respectful to issues around culture and class without being pandering or one-sided. I found myself sympathizing with Balram as a low caste man but despising his ruthless tactics to get ahead in life. Similarly, his direct employers, Ashok and Pinky, are likably progressive but are quick to put Balram in his place or throw him under the bus when it suits their needs. Director Ramin Bahrani uses nuance with his characters to great effect.
The three main actors cast in the film do an excellent job with the material given. Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra play Ashok and Pinky perfectly without pulling the spotlight away from Adarsh Gourav’s Balram. Ashok and Pinky come across as privileged Indians who want to see Balram succeed…but not if their positions are compromised. Rao and Chopra get high scores for effectively portraying the messiness of class privilege. But it’s Adarsh Gourav who steals the show. He expertly presents Balram as ambitious, pitiful, ruthless, naive and cunning. A truly humanizing performance.
Like Gourav’s Balram, India itself is presented as paradoxical. The White Tiger doesn’t attempt to romanticize Indian stereotypes. Instead, it presents the chaotic mix of culture, religion, class and caste all within the context of globalization. From start to end, the movie informs the audience of India’s truly unique position in the emerging economies of the world. For me, this was where The White Tiger left it’s biggest impression.
Source: The White Tiger (Netflix) (2021)