When the Indo-Australian author Aravind Adiga wrote his novel in 2008 The White tigerThe globalism his book described was a speculated future. Now Netflix’s film adaptation of the book is coming to a world in which this globalism is a reality. An Indian-American co-production directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, White Tiger characteristics BaywatchPriyanka Chopra Jonas, the rare actress who is a superstar in both Indian and American media. It tells the story of poor villager Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a reticent man trapped in the Indian rat race of capitalism, caste, and class when he tries to seize his perceived fate by acting as a chauffeur Landlord works for the son of a rich man. The film is full of powerful human dramas (mostly derived from Gourav’s performance), but when examining the intersection of the world with modern India, it usually lands on the wrong side of spuriousness.
From the very first scenes the question arises: “Who is this for?” feels inevitable. After a short prologue from 2007, which shows a traffic accident in New Delhi with Balram, his employer Ashok (Rajkumar Rao) and Ashok’s wife Pinky (Chopra Jonas), the film introduces the frame device that he installed seven years later. Balram, now a polite business owner in the tech capital Bangalore, emails Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and explains his life story from his childhood in the small town of Laxmangarh to his attempts to escape the “hen house” he was born with Embedded in this narrative, in which an Indian explains Indian life to a foreigner, is a never-ending exhibition that feels alienating – undoubtedly for Indian viewers and possibly also for non-Indian viewers in a world more closely connected than 2008. The voice-over takes the audience through the basics of Hinduism and goes so far as to dissect it by comparing it with monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam. It orients the class and caste elements of the story through pithy, patronizing metaphors that could feel better at home in a children’s fable.
The drama at the center of the film is certainly intriguing, and it builds Balram’s loyalty to his employers until how the trailer of the film Hint, Pinky and Ashok cause this traffic accident and convince Balram to take the blame. This central dilemma hits the very heart of the massive class differences in India and currently mirrors several real-world cases (including that of Not movie star Salman Khan) where poor drivers have been forced or persuaded to blame their rich employers for the drunken acts of theirs. But the film’s overarching exploration of Indian social classes begins and ends there, as the story is continually dragged between opposing micro and macro forces: In the individual sense, the interactions between characters reflect the layers of modern Indianness, but the film is vocal Over bound aimed to put down any further exploration.
White Tiger is at war with itself, torn between a realistic exchange between Indian characters and a monologue aimed at an audience believed to include no one remotely familiar with this geopolitical setting . The voice-over is narrated by Balram, but in an authoritarian sense it is an outsider’s view of India who looks in without really trying to understand the place or its people. It was written and directed by an American, Ramin Bahrani, whose inclusion of Western cultural imperialism is limited to a few narrative lines about the influence of the “white man” being replaced by the growing economic power of India and China. However, the film seems to have no idea what Westernization actually looks like – the camera’s gaze is primarily focused on the “Indian-like character” of material objects and urban spaces, but Bahrani rarely ponders how the infrastructural identity of a city could change in The Voice the American Balram refers to her constantly.
If the film’s story about a slowly westernizing India is authentic, the actors bring it to the table. Like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Pinky moved to New York as a child, while Ashok is an “Amreeka return”, a born and raised Indian from the USA after several years of work or study. Her accents alone tell a story of her relationship with the West, with Pinky sounding more consistently American, while Ashok occasionally breaks into Americanizations of certain words and syllables. (Rao has never lived in the US, but he cleverly captures what an Indian might sound like after a few years in the midst of Americans, softening the occasional “t” into a “d” and loosening his vowels.)
As liberal Indians, they hope to become more enlightened on issues of caste and class, but their apparent awareness of these social ills is ultimately selfish. Merely recognizing a rotten structure does little to tear it down, and both Rao and Chopra Jonas are not afraid to embody this ugly contradiction between people torn between the appearance of goodness and the desire for power. Ashok’s involvement in his father’s political corruption is reluctant, but he remains involved nonetheless.
Similarly, Balram reveals unspoken elements of modern Indian class leaders through the way he speaks. In the mid-2000s movie’s timeline, his English is subtly improving after spending time with Anglophones, but his spoken English in the 2014 voice-over is “truer” and clearer. Although what he says in this narrative rarely goes beyond the platitudes, the way he says it shows his closeness to his past and his total adsorption into the global capitalist machine. It’s a shame the film barely touches that part of his life.
For a film that sounds so authentic, both in terms of the spoken accent and the mid-2000s American hip-hop soundtrack that was a big cultural shift in how New Delhi sounded at night back then it’s a shame that authenticity doesn’t extend to what the movie is about in an overarching sense. His policies are half-hearted at best, going so far as to include an analog for the Indian leader Mayawati, a woman of the often oppressed Bahujan Caste. However, its fictional equivalent, dubbed “The Great Socialist,” is only used as a substitute for the social evil of political corruption in the broadest sense. Neither this character nor the film seem to have a basis for anything resembling real Indian politics, or for the issues of inequality that are continually referenced in Balram’s voice-over. They are more of a background buzz than a central dramatic focus; politically, The White tiger is more joker when parasite.
However, Adarsh Gourav shines as Balram, a man whose last name describes his lot in life: “Halwai” suggests a manufacturer of halwa, or Indian sweets. Balram is conditioned to serve by the caste and class structures into which he was born. He oscillates between frolicking in front of his employers and being reckless in front of his colleagues, whose throats he is not afraid of getting any further. Gourav captures both the wide-open, pseudoromantic fascination with which Balram looks at the upper levels of society, as well as the deep betrayal he feels when their acceptance turns out to be conditional. It’s a muted performance, with the occasional bloom of anger and frustration, and one so unexpectedly strong that the movie’s bigger flaws are often left by the wayside when Bahrani stops to focus on Gourav’s face.
The White tiger surely he could have left out his frame device entirely or cut out his voice to let Gourav explore the inwardness of the character further. The pockets of human drama in which the characters talk to each other behind closed doors make the film worth watching, even if the moments when the film appeals to the audience feel frustrating and insincere.
The White tiger is Stream on Netflix now.