The White Tiger
JANUARY 8TH, 2021
MOVIE: THE WHITE TIGER
STARRING: RAJKUMMAR RAO, PRIYANKA CHOPRA, ADARSH GOURAV
DIRECTED BY: RAMIN BAHRANI
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Typically, I am annoyed with movies that use a narrator. There’s only two with a narrator that come to mind that work: Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street. Those Scorsese pictures that use the narration are done with a purpose, a style, and creativity that is the director’s own unique way of telling a story. When I see a new movie that includes a narrator and it works, I am surprised, but it’s not a shock when that director is Ramin Bahrani. The director of 99 Homes and Man Push Cart, has a vast knowledge of cinema and his recent work, The White Tiger is a brutally honest narrative, and an unflinchingly dark tale. It’s about a poor man in India, working as a driver for a wealthy family, and becoming ruthless in his climb above his squalor. The White Tiger is a dissection of comfort vs. opulence, learning a harsh reality about friendship, and a man breaking out of his personal cage. The White Tiger is a ferocious tale of social climbing.
The lead character is Balram (Adarsh Gourav), the story begins with him stating he’s wanted for murder, while writing to the primerie of Japan for a chance to meet him. His arrogance is that of a man who already has everything and now he knows he can have more. The narrative flash’s back to when he was younger, a brilliant person in school, but eventually forced to work for his older grandmother, his mother passed away and his father is on the verge of dying. Balram has been raised as a person in the service industry, so his dream goes as short as being the driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), and his family, all because driving a family of wealth is just as good as rolling in dough. That’s how it is seen by Balram. But along the way, he will make decisions to become trusted by the family he serves, choices that betray others he loves, climbing over his co-workers, while his reckless behavior helps him rise to the top. As the story progresses, it is clear to see that Balram is not as innocent as he has looked.
It is that portrayal of innocence and a quiet manner in Balram that makes the narrative of The White Tiger shocking. At first we see early signs of The Life of Pi or a Slumdog Millionaire path out of the slums. The screenplay is written by Bahrani, from the novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga, and Bahrani understands how to engage the audience in a story of growth, and slowly reveals Balram has a side of kindness and darkness. We hear the words that Balram narrates, yet as the story goes on, and his relationship with Ashok and Pinky becomes closer than just employer, it’s a shocking revelation to see that he would blackmail another driver so he can be the full-time guy. That ruthless approach works, but from that point on, Balram is not the same. He has made a choice with no way to return and it is his kindness that will get him into trouble.
Much of the dynamics in The White Tiger coincide with the other narrative films that Bahrani made. 99 Homes is the United States housing crisis, where a poor man makes a deal with the devil. There’s a bit of that going on here, but reversed. Balram is the poor man, but it is Ashok that will ultimately regret bringing him on, treating him as more friend than server. In the middle is Pinky, an Indian-American, pushing back against the country’s archaic traditions and telling Ashok’s family to treat those who serve them with more respect. But for Balram, he is feeding off the disrespect, comfortable with sleeping in a cellar with cockroaches, and when Ashok betrays his trust, it is Balram who uses it as an opportunity to turn his life around.
On the surface, The White Tiger can take a bit of time to sink into the narrative. However, as we dig deeper into this triangle, the more Balram describes how he ended up in his position, the better this story becomes. It’s similar to a film such as The Gift or recently Lee Chang-dong’s Burning. It is in the third act of The White Tiger where Bahrani is at his best, using authentic emotions, weaving a social commentary that hits to the heart of the matter on social climbing, and the human pursuit of success. Some people will do anything to get to the top. Become a different person, harm others, or disregard all of their life in the past. The White Tiger is a fierce and ruthless drama.
THE WHITE TIGER will release in select theaters January 8th and on Netflix globally January 22nd
Written by: Leo Brady