Written by: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Mahesh Manjrekar
Class issues have recently become a topic of discussion worth dissection with people having more access to resources than ever and noticing exactly the injustices they live with. Generations go by with this perception of needing to follow the roles placed upon people within a certain status, which The White Tiger seeks to viciously eradicate. Razor-sharp with its commentary and an overall fun ride this feature provides a look at the rise of a new generation in India.
Born with the potential to exceed initial life expectations, the reality of his family has Balram (Adarsh Gourav) needing to scrap for every opportunity to succeed. Now working as a chauffeur for rich kid Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), he sees the chance to take each step to elevate himself above the servitude he believed would define his entire existence.
Serving almost like a rebuttal and mocking of Slumdog Millionaire, The White Tiger certainly came to kick butt and take names. With Slumdog winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it became a film most of the world associated with India even with the country having a robust Bollywood scene. For as much as I hold the 2008 film close as one I adore, I admire how The White Tiger rips away the idealism of escaping the caste system through a game show and demonstrates the reality of how certain groups are kept down purposefully. Showing this side breaks barriers and makes for an equally infuriating and entertaining ride.
Feeling incredibly modern in its representation, this film shows the difference between those with the power and those needing to pay in order to survive. It puts someone like Balram and his family at a large disadvantage right from the start. With kids in a higher caste, any opportunity to receive a fancy education comes as a given. However, even when Balram, through hard work, earns his way to a great chance to change his family tree, the reality of him born in a caste system meant to serve immediately puts him at a disadvantage. Witnessing his climb up the ladder makes the story so exhilarating simply due to the unlikeliness of him achieving his goals.
The time Balram spends with Ashok and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) truly digs at a different level of this caste system because everything at home represents the old way but everything with this couple demonstrates the well-meaning liberal and the nice phony. On his journey up, Balram lucks out in being the driver for Ashok and by all means, he seems like a much nicer guy than his father and brother. Educated outside of India, he looks down on the idea of the caste system and demeaning someone like Balram just because he can. The same goes with Pinky, who not only looks down on the system but also the overall misogyny still prevalent in India. Unafraid to speak her mind, it appears Balram has hit the jackpot for individuals to work for until reality rears its ugly head out.
An important incident occurs not only reframing every conversation but displaying however nice these rich individuals may seem on some level, whenever it comes to protecting themselves, those they see as beneath them will always be taken advantage of. It serves as a proper lesson for Balram and sets him up for the rest of the film and how he continues to captivate the screen. Utilizing plenty of fourth-wall breaks to speak to the audience, Balram lays everything out, and seeing him rise to the top from nothing allows for such a level of catharsis by whatever means possible.
Taking us through this entire journey is Adarsh Gourav as he takes center stage to deliver a deliciously vicious performance. He portrays Balram at his most humble all the way to when he reaches a level of prominence by defeating a system meant to keep his type of people down for generations. Flipping back and forth between the past and present for this character does not matter because he becomes a force to reckon with and I hope his career continues to explode after the work he put forward here.
Incisive with its message and thoroughly entertaining, The White Tiger tells a different rags-to-riches story than most Americans know of in India. It takes no prisoners and gets right down to business in displaying what has kept people down and what it takes to break the cycle. There will be times where you want to throw something at the screen in anger, but other instances will make you cheer for the climb Balram goes on.