The White Tiger
- Emma Simmonds
- 5 January 2021
Ramin Bahrani turns Aravind Adiga's novel into a thought-provoking film featuring Priyanka Chopra
Indian-Australian author Aravind Adiga's 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel is brought persuasively to the screen by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, known for such socially conscious films as 99 Homes, At Any Price and Chop Shop. Given a lively, Slumdog Millionaire-evoking treatment, the film takes largely successful swipes at the dignity-eroding nature of the master-servant dynamic.
Established Indian and international stars like Priyanka Chopra (also an executive producer here) and Rajkummar Rao flank newcomer Adarsh Gourav, who impresses in the role of driver and all-round skivvy Balram. Following a glimpse of the 2007 car accident that will change the course of Balram's life, we hurtle forwards to find our protagonist an established businessman composing an email to the visiting Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, in which he recounts his remarkable rise.
The son of a rickshaw puller in a village in the Gaya district, Balram's academic smarts are irrelevant because his father cannot keep up with the school fees. Instead, the boy toils brutally for years but when Balram wangles a position as a driver to the village landlord's son Ashok (Rao) it's a notable step up, with his employer and his American-raised wife Pinky (Chopra) sporting a more liberal, ostensibly benign outlook than those Balram has previously encountered and relocating him to Delhi. However, despite his exhausting efforts at ingratiation the humiliations continue.
Giving voice to the voiceless, the film acts as a thought-provoking examination of the psychological toll of servitude, the horrors of inequality and takes a look at what it sees as the 'rooster coop' phenomenon that characterises India at large, where trapped people are coerced into appalling mistreatment, or are brainwashed into unquestioning acceptance.
Gourav convincingly relays his character's extraordinary journey, where he must choose whether to be ruthless, or return to life-threatening poverty and there's nice work from Chopra (going here by Chopra Jonas) as Pinky, who prides herself on her progressive attitude but still suffers from snobbery and hides behind the old-school brutes when push comes to shove. The White Tiger is angry, though perhaps not angry enough, and key scenes lack the requisite emotional impact, particularly during the final act which looks at the terrible price of freedom.
Available to watch in selected cinemas and on Netflix from Fri 22 Jan.