The White Tiger
Cast: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao
Director: Ramin Bahrani
“The Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, all at the same time.”
Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), while continuously breaking the fourth wall through dialogues and gestures, readies us for the ‘dark times’. He asks us to not take the opening of the film on its face value as his story is not what it seems to be.
Director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, 99 Homes) focuses on the difficult choices made by an ambitious, fast learner and conniving Jharkhand boy in The White Tiger, based on a synonymous book by Aravind Adiga. In the process, he tries to explore the caste and economic divide and how they’re interrelated in modern India, which is not always about the shining module projected to the world. However, most of it fails to fetch any second looks.
Gourav stands his ground against Priyanka Chopra, who is brimming with confidence and a fantastic screen presence, and Rajkummar Rao, who struggles during accent swap. Because the narrator and the central character are one, bringing many sides of the story must have been tedious for Bahrani, but he somehow manages to give the audience a picture of how the rural-urban segregation could have worked during the initial days of liberal economy.
Despite promising a darker tale in the beginning, The White Tiger rarely ventures beyond the obvious. There is no denying that the privileged part of the West might find some portions unsettling, but overall, it doesn’t impact to the level that you begin pondering about the natural progression the story could have followed otherwise. Not comparing with Slumdog Millionaire, but at least Danny Boyle got the shock value to the optimum. Here, Bahrani entangles himself in metaphors that don’t generate any curiosity or are totally lost in translation.
I also have issues with celebrating grimness or justifying poverty or being underprivileged as the ultimate catalyst to crime, which unfortunately is the sole reason behind the bulk of Gourav’s deeds in the latter half. Even if it is not directly about the victim and the predator, you wouldn’t want the makers to cheer for the right person while standing in the wrong court.
Also, because a lot has changed since the release of the book in 2008, some plots could have been read in a new light. One thing that has categorically changed in last 12-13 years is the upliftment of the high aspirational values of the youth, both rural and urban. With the support from the government and some protection by the law, youngsters probably wouldn’t go down the ambiguous path of fraud and crime. It’s debatable though.
The White Tiger,streaming on Netflix in India, keeps feeding the same poor-guy-turned-criminal narrative to its takers. It hardly shows any intentions of scratching beneath the surface. Not intriguing enough.