R E V I E W – M O V I E
Arvind Adiga’s New York Time’s bestselling novel, The White Tiger, vividly portrayed the caste and class struggle in India, the corruption in the social system, and the struggle of survival. In 2008, this social satire rightfully won the Man Booker Prize. And who else can resurrect this ghastly yet blistering story on-screen better than the person to whom this book has been dedicated to?
Yes, the ingenious Indie filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, to whom Arvind dedicated his masterpiece, took this mammoth task and did a great job at it. Ramin’s previous work includes the direction of critically acclaimed films like Chop Shop, Fahrenheit 451, and 99 Homes. His work is deeply rooted in humanity, moral compass, and ethics and it was about time he took his friend Arvind’s novel as his script.
This film, released on 22 January this year, stars Adarsh Gourav as the main protagonist Balram alongside Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Pinky, and Rajkumar Rao as Ashok.
It took the repercussion of the accidental death of an unknown child from his caste of ‘men with small bellies’ to ignite the hidden wrath of Balram, the servant turned entrepreneur. And that’s how Balram started narrating his story to the Chinese Premier via email at the beginning of the movie.
Born with the expectations to fulfil the needs of a large family, living life following the dictation of an elder of the family (in his case, his grandmother), leaving school to get a job, losing a parent for the lack of treatment – Balram’s story was a very familiar tale of a man enchained by social norms and the rigid caste system in this subcontinent.
However, Balram’s life took a turn when he chose to defy the social customs and create his own path. He took the opportunity of working as a second driver for his village landlord’s (The Stork) son Ashok, who returned from America. Balram was more of a servant than a driver, but he progressed swiftly from being the family’s second driver to the first driver, using religious supremacy. His transition may appear ruthless, but it was utterly realistic and necessary for his survival.
Ashok and his wife Pinky were superficially soft-hearted, considerate human beings unlike the rest of their family members. But Ashok, who broke the caste system to marry Pinky, and Pinky, who created her own identity, had an inbred sense of superiority in themselves. Though they were empathetic to Balram, they never missed the chance to ridicule his religious beliefs or ignorance by dubbing them as actions of a ‘half-baked Indian’, who is a representative of the real India. And when the time required, Ashok, who has the blood of his landlord father in his veins, didn’t step back from exploiting Balram. Pinky rather, unfortunately, found herself in this tangled mess but at least, she showed Balram that he could be more than what he is.
Balram who suffered from inferiority, both inbred and forced by the caste system for a long time, had so much angst buried inside him. He was amoral, nonetheless, his loyalty towards his master didn’t change after the accident; not even when he was forced to take the blame. It was then, when he sensed his replacement approaching, he chose to break free of the ‘rooster coop’, the ludicrous relationship of a master and servant forced by society. His freedom came at a huge price of course.
Another story of breaking the class-stereotype ran abaft the movie. It was the story of the Great Socialist, the revered politician from low-caste who reached the pinnacle of the society. Delhi, the centre of power dynamics in India, where a person can rise to power in no time through crime or politics, both Balram and the Great Socialist survived. Balram picked crime and the Great Socialist chose politics as their means of survival.
Balram later chose to be an entrepreneur and it was ironic that his startup capital was the money donated to the Great Socialist’s political party. Balram indeed was the rarest creature of his time; a person with questionable morality, brilliance, vision, and zeal. He was the white tiger of this disordered jungle of social system.
Critics around the world have referred this film as Slumdog Millionaire with more reality. Set at the heart of India, both of the movies unfolded the saga of a common man who reached the upper echelon of the society; Jamal Malik of Slumdog Millionaire through sheer luck and intelligence, but Balram of The White Tiger through his coruscating wit. However, this narrative of breaking free from class struggle isn’t rare in Asian culture. The Oscar-winning Parasite proves that. However, the Park family was more humane than the Stork’s family. But both the Kim family and Balram abandoned morality for the sake of survival.
The brilliance of this movie definitely lies in the story. But I would give due credit to Ramin for the screenplay and for his obvious efforts to ensure the authenticity of Indian representation. The cast wasn’t exactly star-studded, which allowed Adarsh to be at the spotlight. Albeit it had been his first lead role, Adarsh impeccably executed his character. Priyanka was as graceful as ever despite performing for a brief time on-screen. Unlike his calibre, Rajkumar Rao seemed a bit lost in terms of both accent and acting while portraying America-returnee Ashok.
Despite the extensive use of English as language, the movie didn’t fail short to capture the true essence of India in respect of cinematography. Furthermore, the use of rap music and complementary Indian songs while roaming around Delhi felt like a tribute to the hip hop culture, the culture to shatter capitalism, and political and social inequality. All in all, the conjoint effort of the entire cast and crews made this movie of 2 hours and 5 minutes indisputably worthwhile.
Sharika Sabha is tired of convincing people that Economics doesn’t teach you how to make money. She loves human babies, books, and submitting assignments a few minutes before the deadline. She can be reached at [email protected]