India holds a special place in my heart.
Having worked for an Indian company for just over three years, I visited the country around five-six times. While The White Tiger is mostly set in Dhanbad and Delhi, in the east and north of India respectively, the ways of life portrayed had many similarities with my beloved Mumbai, which is in the south of India.
The other big similarity is the strong resemblance between one of the central plot points and the real-life hit-and-run case of Bollywood actor Salman Khan: Khan killed a person who had been sleeping on the pavement after his car mounted the road. As in The White Tiger, it wasn’t Khan who signed a testimony admitting to driving at the time.
I wrote about Khan in 2015 – ‘The Curious Case of Salman Khan’ – when Khan was finally appearing on trial. The incident had happened some 13 years earlier but the Indian legal system is notoriously slow. Since I wrote my post Khan has – frustratingly and unjustly, in my view – been acquitted.
Real-world comparisons aside, The White Tiger provides a glimpse of the lack of parity between those that have money and those that don’t, and those that have power and those that don’t.
A central theme is a wonderful analogy of a rooster in a rooster coop: a rooster waiting to be slaughtered knows its fate but doesn’t do anything to stop it. Adarsh Gourav’s Balram says that it is the same for servants, explaining why servants remain so loyal to their master.
Through the events of the film Balram evolves from naïve servant to astute businessman, switching from the demeaning nickname ‘Country Mouse’ to the once-in-a-generation, powerful White Tiger. Gourav, in his film debut, gives a very strong performance, ably supported by Priyanka Chopra’s Pinky Madam in particular.
Balram gives a nice nod to another ‘rags to riches’ Indian film, Slumdog Millionaire, by saying early on in The White Tiger in regards to the rooster coop: “Don’t think there’s a million rupee game you can win to get out of it.”
The White Tiger is a strong film but is let down, in my opinion, by a slow pace, uneven thirds and rather anticlimactic ending that was obvious half-way through the film. In fact, I rather lost interest when Chopra left the screen.
While Balram is the central focus in The White Tiger, I would have liked to have explored more of Pinky Madam’s relationship with her in-laws, especially after her husband’s (Rajkummar Rao’s Ashok, Balram’s main master) comments about how he’s quizzed why she wears trousers.
The White Tiger is well worth a watch, particularly if you enjoy dramas and stories that chart the rise of the downtrodden, undervalued underdog.
The White Tiger (2021)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav
“The epic journey of a poor Indian driver who must use his wit and cunning to break free from servitude to his rich masters and rise to the top of the heap.” – IMDb.