We have all seen the film where a man, starting with nothing, fights and claws his way to the top using nothing but his wits, guts and sheer determination. "The White Tiger" takes this recognizable story and turns it on his head, creating a film that subverts audience expectation and creates an unforgettable movie-going experience.
If you are not familiar with Indian culture, "The White Tiger" gives you a crash course. Boiled down, there is no such thing as "upward mobility" in society, as you are simply born into the class that you born into. This movie takes place in modern times, so American audiences might be shocked to find a country where arranged marriages are still commonplace, with a two-caste system of "masters and slaves" embedded into not only the structure, but into the minds of its people.
Balram (the magnificent Adarsh Gourav) is a poor young boy with ambition and smarts not common of his caste. He is determined to climb the social ladder and provide for his family, and for himself. "America is so yesterday" he says at one point, understanding that the future consists of "brown and black people." He will stop at nothing to get where he wants to go.
Using his instincts and will, he manages to befriend the son of the man in power over his small village. This son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), is in need of a driver, so Balram learns this skill and offers his services. Reluctant at first, Balram worms his way into the family and becomes close with Ashok and Ashok's progressive wife, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), even though he is constantly reminded that he is, in fact, NOT a part of the wealthy family.
"The White Tiger" is the sort of film where you can't quite critique it properly without risking giving away key plot developments that may ruin the fun of watching it unfold. Let's just say that we root for the underdog Balram because we are more or less programmed to do so...but things go in unexpected directions, in a film that exposes human nature in unsettling ways.
Adarsh Gourav is a revelation, and his performance carries the film, even with the help of a remarkable ensemble. The narrative itself gets a little long in the tooth, and drifts more than it should...a tighter, more focused version of events would have made a better overall film. Also, I wasn't a huge fan of the narration and structure of the movie being told in flashback for its vast majority.
Even with its flaws, "The White Tiger" sinks its teeth into you, and sticks with you long after the final credits roll.
Genre: Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 5 minutes.
Starring: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Vijay Maurya, Kamlesh Gill.
Based on the book by Aravind Adiga.
Written and Directed by Ramin Bahrani ("Fahrenheit 451," "99 Homes," "At Any Price").
"The White Tiger" premieres theatrically on Friday, January 15th, 2021 followed by exclusive Netflix release on Friday, January 22nd, 2021.
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