Cast: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao, Mahesh Manjrekar
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Remember Oscar-winning Bong Joon-ho's drama film Parasite in which the struggling Kim family sees an opportunity when the son starts working for the wealthy Park family and soon leaving the parasite lives, they start living a parasitic life. Well, that heart-wrenching film has perfectly shown the class conflict, social inequality, and wealth disparity between the society. Similarly, the 2008 released novel by Aravind Adiga, 'The White Tiger', exhibits the lower class struggle in modern India but with a pitch of darkly humorous perspective of Balram Halwai. Well, in the same year, Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire was released and was a loose adaptation of the novel 'Q & A' (2005) by Vikas Swarup. Now, you'll think about why we are discussing the Korean film Parasite and Slumdog Millionaire, well, after watching Ramin Bahrani's 'The White Tiger', it seems like all these three films are interconnected with a plotline of class disparities between lifestyle and luxury of each person's existence within society.
A rags-to-riches parable, The White Tiger takes us on the journey of Balram Halwai who works as a chauffeur to a rich landlord but is trapped in the rooster coop of society. Rooster coop! If you think about the coop then it is not less than any prison for our protagonist. The White Tiger takes its flows when Balram takes the narrative seat and he commentaries on every aspect of his miserable life which has been shattered because of his family's obligation to him and his way of serving himself as a loyal servant to his master.
Meanwhile, in the narrative, Balram denoted a poor man's faith with a rooster coop who can see and smell the blood and aware of the fact that next, the butcher is going to cut him down in the pieces but still never tries to escape from the coop. Similarly, he speaks about a rickshaw pulling driver who carries a worth of furniture which is more worthy than his salary but still, he faithfully pedals the money back to his master. Not because they are faithful but because they are caught in the coop. Unlike those poor people who never think to fly, Balram sheds his history of poverty and underdevelopment, he represents himself as the new tomorrow.
The White Tiger starts when Balram Halwai narrates his life in an email to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. In the written mail, Balram tells the rags-to-riches story to Jiabao. His description takes him to his childhood days when he was an intelligent little boy, a good learner, and the one who speaks good English. One day a teacher visits his school for inspection and he asks the students to read what is written over the blackboard. Unlike the others, Balram stands and speaks, after getting impressed, the teacher denotes him as The White Tiger, the one who is the rarest of animals that comes along only once in a generation.
Balram's narration makes a clear way for his audience through his difficulties of living a life in a lower class society. In the initial scene,
he tells how his family sleeps in the darkness with legs falling one over the other like a millipede creature. But still, he indulges himself in learning in the dark night with the small lightning of a lamp. But his dream starts crashing when his father is unable to pay off his debt to the village master who is a wealthy entrepreneur (Mahesh Manjrekar). Subsequently, his grandmother forces him to work at a tea shop. After that, he never saw the inside of school again and soon his father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died due to inadequate treatment.
After all this, Balram decides to make a way for himself and starts taking driving classes as he gets to know that Laxmangarh's landlord is looking for a driver. He takes over the job of the second driver at the landlord's house but meets his son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) who is an NRI who lives with his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). Soon, he makes a place for himself at Ashok's house and becomes the main driver after throwing out the prime driver.
Soon he stops sending money back to his family and when he goes back to his native place, he refuses his grandmother's proposal of marrying someone and leaves the place after disrespecting his brother. Balram moves to New Delhi with Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam. Throughout their time in Delhi, Balram is exposed to extensive corruption, the contrast between the poor and the wealthy, his real place at the Ashok house.
But things drastically change when one-night drunk Pinky takes the wheel from Balram and accidentally hits a little girl. Panicked Pinky and Ashok try to see the girl but Balram doesn't allow them and drives away. After the incident, Ashok's family puts pressure on Balram to confess that he had been driving alone and after that, it hinders Balram from inside. At that time, Balram feels trapped in the rooster coop, wants to fly but couldn't.
Ramin Bahrani, who has helmed the project, is a critically acclaimed director of several award-winning films. With the novel adaption, Ramin has worked hard to represent actual India but still, the film's second half is too loose and fails to bind the audience with its flow. He has also written the screenplay and as per the novel, Ramin has brilliantly written Balram's style of narration.
Talking about the performances, Adarsh Gourav as Balram Halwai is a show-steller and looks flawless as Aravind Adiga's white tiger. Well, who knows that the little Shahrukh Khan from the film My Name Is Khan is going to be a white tiger in the future. On the other side, Priyanka Chopra has a short role in the film but her performance was as strong a stone is. Her concern for Balram and disapproval of treating him with class disparities makes her performance more promising. More about Rajkummar Rao, then who can raise questions on his performance but his accent seems uncooked and feels borrowed by some US returned NRI. More about the other star cast then Mahesh Manjrekar is as evil as he is shown in the Bollywood films and the rest of the actors have also performed well. Kamlesh Gill, who plays Balram's grandmother, was good but seems like makers forget to teach her Bihari. Vijay Maurya also played the antagonist role perfectly.
Paolo Carnera's cinematography will remind you of Slumdog Millionaire as you will see the reality of that India which we mostly ignore and don't want to visit. Well, it's quite harsh but this is the true reality. More about the music then at several points you'll hear some Punjabi hip-hop songs which go perfectly with each scene.
All-embracing, The White Tiger, tells the story of Balram Halwai, born in India's overarching darkness of perpetual servanthood and poverty. The one who wants to serve his master but soon he realizes that life is not about serving others. Unlike a white tiger, who is born once in a time is thrown into the zoos and becomes a prisoner, Balram decided to build his own empire. Overall, if you have loved Parasite or Slumdog Millionaire, or any similar genre films, then The White Tiger is your cup of tea as the film's first half is gripping and full of thrilling rides. So don't be a rooster trapped in a coop and add The White Tiger to your watch list for this weekend.