The White Tiger

History suggests that ambition, dedication, and hard work are the primary drivers for achieving success in a capitalist society. But what if you live in India with its caste system of social stratification where no amount of hard work and commitment will allow one to advance beyond the position into which you are born?

That’s the chief subject matter taken on by Ramin Bahrani in his latest film, The White Tiger which presents a vivid yet heartbreaking illustration of how politics, corruption, class division and unchecked greed contribute to a broken system that leads to economic and social despair. Though he doesn’t provide any clear cut answers to the question at the film’s center, Bahrani does give us a harrowing, and often humorous look at the ravages such a structure can inflict on those less fortunate.


"a dark and dismal morality tale of needless strife and wasted ambition"

The 99 Homes director adapts his story from Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, and in his trademarked satirical fashion, systematically takes apart all the little quaint notions of traditional rags-to-riches stories we’ve come to know – and for good measure, throws a little shade at Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire while he’s at it. We’re left with a dark and dismal morality tale of needless strife and wasted ambition.

As the film opens, we meet young adult Balram (Adarsh Gourav), a dapper, mustachioed entrepreneur as he is penning a letter to China’s premier Wen Jiabao about the premier’s upcoming visit to India. Via a series of flashbacks we learn that Balram was born poor and is forced to give up his dreams of furthering his education when his rickshaw-driving father dies from tuberculosis, leaving the family reeling under the weight of crushing debt. The family's endless cycle of poverty is best described when Balram compares life in his country to a rooster coop. Much like how roosters trapped in their cages do nothing to stop their own deadly fate at the meat market, the poor of India refuse to prevent the crush of fellow citizens beneath the boots of the wealthy and powerful.

Unsatisfied with his predetermined lot in life, Balram devises a way to break free from the nasty poverty cycle by finding work as a driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), the Americanized son of a wealthy Indian landowner and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra).The White Tiger

Educated in the United States, Balram’s new employers understand the political incorrectness of India's master-servant history, yet are quick to set aside that understanding and chastise Balram as they see fit. The flimsiness of their veil of “wokeness” is perfectly revealed when, following a tragic accident that presents the perfect opportunity to do the right thing, Pinky and her family instead revert to their lofty position of power to make the problem go away.

That is the central message that runs through Bahrani’s The White Tiger. One that so vividly reflects the unending cycle in which modern India finds itself: unless everyone is willing to work towards change, its citizens will never be able to break the system of oppression and despotism. If you are buying what Bahrani is selling – and you should –  you understand that they are unwilling to work in unison towards that common goal of betterment. Via numerous clever metaphors Bahrani presents a vivid reminder that the poorest will actively prevent one another from escaping the system.

Some will have a problem connecting with Balram’s character. Initially, he comes off as a sympathetic figure, but a string of petty crimes and questionable moral decisions – including a few really big ones – make him increasingly difficult to like. What can’t be denied however, is the work of Gourav who turns in an incredible performance with his Balram. Chopra is at the top of her game as well, as is the entire cast who combine to make this rags-to-riches morality tale one of the year’s best films.

5/5 stars

 The White Tiger

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Film Details

The White Tiger

MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and sexual material.
125 mins
: Ramin Bahrani
Ramin Bahrani
Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, Priyanka Chopra
: Drama
Create Your Fate.
Memorable Movie Quote: "The moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave."
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Release Date:
January 22, 2021
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Synopsis: The ambitious driver for a rich Indian family uses his wit and cunning to escape from poverty and become an entrepreneur. Based on the bestselling novel.



The White Tiger