“Do we loathe our masters behind a façade of love, or do we love them behind a façade of loathing?”
So ponders Balram (Adarsh Gourav), a servant for a wealthy and influential Indian family and the protagonist of Ramin Bahrani‘s sharp and incisive new Netflix original, The White Tiger.
From the opening moments of his film, Bahrani makes a purposeful effort to highlight the social and economic divide that exists between the rich and the poor of Indian society – and the rest of the world as well. The delicate tension that characterizes this relationship, the precarious mutual necessity that each group possesses for the other, provides much of The White Tiger‘s thematic heft and the impetus for Balram’s eventful journey from being a penniless villager to owning a hugely successful business and cementing himself as a member of India’s elite, which is how we are initially introduced to him in the film’s dizzying opening minutes.
On the surface level, The White Tiger is just another rags-to-riches narrative with a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure. While this is true to an extent, Bahrani has plenty more going on under the hood of this thoughtful adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel. Balram’s humble beginnings as a poor boy dwelling in the poverty-stricken environment his family has been stuck in for generations do more than simply inform the trajectory of his character. They also offer audience members a window through which to view the squalor that defines the lives of large swaths of the Indian population.
This is a film as aware of the societal inequalities of its characters and the cultural implications of their behaviour as any piece of cinema you’re likely to find. Bahrani has imbued a substantial amount of genuinely meaningful social commentary into what is essentially the story of Balram’s successful rise to the top. There is never a moment that loses sight of where each character is positioned within the ranks of society and how their placement subsequently impacts their interactions with their surroundings and the people with whom they cross paths. Bahrani obviously has some thoughts about the political and economic realities facing our world today, and he uses The White Tiger as a thoroughly engrossing mechanism for venting those thoughts.
From a filmic perspective, The White Tiger is a solidly made movie with top-notch performances from Adarsh Gourav and others, and a bevy of visual flare to accentuate Bahrani’s excellent screenplay. Gourav in particular stands out from his capable co-stars and proves an exceptionally engaging leading man. Even as the ever-scheming Balram plots out his grand designs and ruminates on ways to beat out his fellow man, Gourav maintains an undeniable authenticity, a magnetic conviction that ultimately makes Balram a sympathetic – if flawed – central character.
It’s a compelling tale masterfully communicated by a confident storyteller in total command of his craft. I was extremely impressed by the film as a whole and would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for an absorbing drama that packs loads of biting wit and surprising emotional intelligence.
This is definitely one to check out on Netflix this weekend.
Crime, Drama | India, 2021 | 15 | 22nd January 2021 | Netflix Original | Dir.Ramin Bahrani | Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav