Review: Earnest 'The White Tiger' roars with energy
Courtesy of Netflix
Based on the best selling novel by Aravind Adiga, Ramin Bahrani’s “The White Tiger” presents an intriguing study of India’s caste system, and its main subject: Balram (Adarsh Gourav). Balram was destined to leave his dirt-poor village and study in Delhi after stunning teachers with crazy academic skills and knowledge (labeled a “white tiger” because of how rare a student he was). Except Balram’s family dive into poverty meant his education stalled so he could help put food on the table. Balram steadily watched the flawed class system adapt as he grew up, relying through voiceovers how India citizens are chickens afraid to leave the coop, trapped by economic welfare and wealthy landlords who continued raising rent.
Keenly aware, Balram observes the landowners starting with the patriarch (Mahesh Manjrekar), and his older, bafoonish son Mongoose (Vijay Maurya). But there’s the more tolerant, simple minded younger son Ashok (Raijkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) who both have just moved back from America. Belram’s objective is simple: infiltrate the inner circle of tight-knit employees and secure a spot as Ashok’s primary driver. Even if it entails blackmailing loyal staff members. It’s survival of the fittest.
After landing the gig Balram learns the family’s secrets, including a tax evasion, ponzi scheme around a prominent political figure that never takes off narratively and he spends most of his time gleefully living in a slimy subterranean level of Ashok and Pinky’s lavish Delhi apartment, serving his masters with a wink and a nod until one horrific accident leaves their relationship at a bitter crossroads.
While “The White Tiger'' is a story of servitude and climbing the ranks with a stark metaphor about eating the rich, it’s also about the quest of self enrichment through hard work.The relentless pacing roars with energy, especially as Gourav turns in a star-is-born performance opposite Rao and Chopra who play off each other exceptionally. The film isn’t without some blemishes, including chaotic freeze-frame montages about life in India, or the conflicting message of how the wealthy and poor can practically get away with murder becuase of who they are and how the caste system functions, albeit in much different ways.
Regardless, “The White Tiger” is an entertaining ride about earning your place in the world, even if that means climbing over others to get it. Family is important, yes, but only when they push you for greatness and not forced marriages. Balram is a fascinating character to follow and his motivations are clearly laid out, and though you might be shocked at where he ends up, it’s a satisfying ending considering his journey to get there.
THE WHITE TIGER is now playing in select theaters and debuts on Netflix Friday, January 22nd.