Getting out of poverty can feel like fighting to swim upstream against a roaring river, without ever having learned how to swim. And with The White Tiger, the new film demonstrates the lengths some might go to be free from the chains of being poor, even if it means making choices one wouldn’t make in normal circumstances.
The film is based on a 2008 novel by an Indian author named Aravind Adiga which garnered much acclaim including winning the Man Booker Prize and reached The New York Times Best Sellers list.
But does the Netflix film do the source material justice? Here is our review for the latest Netflix movie The White Tiger and whether it’s worth a stream.
The White Tiger review
The film centers on Balram (Adarsh Gourav), a young man from India who was born and raised in an impoverished area of his city which he compares to a chicken coop. This is an area where the villagers just accept their poor surroundings and the inevitability of their fate until the day they die much like the chickens themselves.
But Balram, due to his past, does not want to accept this fate and tries to be bold by persuading his way into a rich master’s family by becoming their driver. He even teaches himself how to drive without previous experience. Once he does, Balram manages to become a driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas) who lovingly embrace Balram as their servant and driver. This seems like a first step in the right direction for Balram.
But Balram realizes fleeing the chicken coop does not mean freedom has no cost, and he might have to be a tiger in a world that wants to toss him aside or make him into a domesticated house cat.
The story itself is surprisingly timely for a film based on a book from 2008. Many of us are struggling, out of work, fighting to stay afloat in the middle of a pandemic that is making numerous people unemployed and depressed, and stuck in the same four walls. It is also easy to see that not everyone is having the same pandemic experience and that is largely due to financial resources.
Furthermore, the middle and lower class have grown tired of the rich and what they have to say about almost anything. Most of this is caused by the country struggling majorly as a whole leaving people ready to burst into anger or surrender in hopelessness. The dichotomy evidenced even right now was also very clearly experienced by Balram.
The journey of Balram is not much different. Poverty breeds desperation and desperation can make anyone ambitious to a fault. And Balram definitely seems like his heart is in the right place but he becomes unsuspectingly vicious when put in the corner to reach his ambitions.
The viewer will sympathize with him and at the same time question the sympathy they have for him because it is in the very nature of humanity to want to do more than survive. But at what cost?
The White Tiger is also strengthened by its lead performer Gourav who delivers a stellar performance as Balram. This is one of the best examples of seeing an actor brilliantly showcasing a character’s transformation in a 2-hour runtime. Gourav manages to show three different evolutions of Balram masterfully.
Performance aside, the script itself in key moments felt like it was missing some beats that could have landed the character shifts more satisfyingly. The acting is on-point but on first viewing, some of the progressions felt quick and like it could have used deeper exploration. Thankfully, Gourav as a performer brings the near-fumble home for a touchdown.
Furthermore, it’s not every day that a mainstream release contains an all Indian cast outside of the Bollywood atmosphere. For that alone, it’s worth supporting and checking out this weekend.
Outside of the Fahrenheit 451 movie that landed on HBO a few years back, I’m unfamiliar with director Ramin Bahrani’s filmography. What can be said for certain is this movie absolutely shows what a talent he is behind the camera. The film is smart, brisk, and confidently directed, and with The White Tiger, Bahrani has arrived.
The White Tiger is a surprisingly timely adaptation of an acclaimed novel with a lot on its mind. It covers the struggles between the lower and upper-class and how these struggles can make good people bend themselves to overcome destitution.
The film is strengthened by a solid breakout performance from its lead Adarsh Gourav and confidently handled by director Ramin Bahrani.
It’s rare that audiences get to see a film outside of Bollywood with an all-Indian cast get placed in the mainstream spotlight like this and it’s one that should definitely be celebrated.
The White Tiger is now streaming on Netflix.