A different beast
The White Tiger is an adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel of the same name. The film deals with caste politics and showcases the rich-poor divide that exists in India. It offers a commentary on what’s wrong with our country, where even after so many years of democracy, the mighty still rule over those with lesser means. In the film’s somewhat lopsided worldview the only way up for the poor is through crime and politics. Director Ramin Bahrani has made the film for Western audiences. Hence, all we see is abject poverty at one hand and high-society lifestyle on the other. It’s as if the great Indian middle class, which is driving the world economy forward by its buying power, simply doesn’t exist. This division into the haves and have-nots is too simplistic indeed.
On one end of the spectrum is Balram Halwai (Adash Gourav), who has studied a little as a child, knows how to speak Hindi, and his ambition is to become the driver of Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), the younger son of his village zamindar (Mahesh Manjrekar). Ashok, who has studied in America, is married to Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) an Indian girl born and raised in America. While the zamindar and his elder son (Vijay Maurya) treat Balram like he’s only a rung above being an animal, the only people who treat him as a human being are America returned Ashok and Pinky. Pinky, in particular, is the sole humanitarian in the film. She constantly eggs him to rebel, to not take things lying down. Pinky is also guilty of running over a child while drunk driving. A crime which Balram is forced to take the blame for. Does it sound familiar to a well-known hit and run case in Mumbai? His inability to say no further propels him to break the invisible chains around him, leading to a night of crime, rebellion, but ultimately redemption for him.
The screenplay is full of discrepancies. Ashok, much against his wishes, is shown doing too many deals in Delhi — for what rhyme or reason, we don’t know. His father and brother are shown travelling in the sleeper compartment on a train. Again, this smacks of ignorance as no rich person will do so. Perhaps the most irritating thing is that the common man, the drivers, Balram’s relatives, are shown speaking in English among themselves. Now, a driver might speak to his employers in English but will not do so in the company of his peers. Also, since when did the Pajero become the apex of luxury cars in Delhi among the rich?
As said earlier, the film just hints at the class, caste and religious divide. It barks but doesn’t bite. Maybe it’s the director’s ignorance with India — Adiga’s book is only just a reference point, after all, or maybe he was advised not to dig too deep. Whatever the reason may be, it leaves you with an unsatisfied feeling. The lack of depth is buoyed by some wonderful acting. Priyanka Chopra has given a great performance as Pinky who isn’t used to the patriarchal ways of her in-laws and openly rebels against them. Her reaction shots to their casual misbehaviour with the servants are spot on. And her chemistry with Rajkummar Rao crackles as well. They very much look like a yuppie couple who don’t quite fit and should definitely go back to America. We wish there was more of Priyanka in the film but it’s not Pinky’s story. Rajkummar Rao too seems so natural in his role as the younger son who has forgotten that his family are basically gangsters. He’s caught between two extremes and is unable to decide where he belongs. Rao showcases his character’s helplessness superbly. The film rests squarely on Adarsh Gourav’s shoulders, however. He’s Balram personified. He’s so seamless in his performance that one forgets one’s watching an actor at work. It’s as if a candid camera is following someone around and is magically privy to the person’s thoughts.
We’ll reiterate that The White Tiger has been made with the Western audience in mind and further reinforces the stereotype of India being a poor, third world country. The human drama it brings forth thankfully rises above the cliches…