Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The White Tiger (2021)

A review on American feature length film, The White Tiger (2021). The film is directed by Irani/ American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani. Based on the best selling Indian book The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga, the film stars Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao. The White Tiger is distributed by Netflix.

+ Crew I

  • Directed by Ramin Bahrani
  • Cinematography by Paolo Carnera
  • Screenplay by Ramin Bahrani
  • Edited by Tim Streeto and Ramin Bahrani
  • Music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans
  • Produced by Mukul Deora, Ramin Bahrani, Priyanka Chopra and Ava DuVernay

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Lava Media
  • Noruz Films
  • Purple Pebble Pictures

+ Note

The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga was published back in 2008, dealing with the intricate sociological infrastructure of the caste system in India and its consequences. Producer Mukul Deora bought the rights to the novel immediately and chose Ramin Bahrani as the director to bring this story to fruition. Bahrani is well renowned in the film industry for being the voice for the “underbelly” of society with such films as Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2007). In order to bring authenticity to the story, Bahrani did not want to cast a well known, handsome Bollywood super star in the lead role but instead opted for Adarsh Gourav, who is hardly renowned for any film work within the public sphere. In order to play the lead role, Gourav went deep into Method acting, spent months in India riding local buses, working 12 hours a day, washing plates for a living. 

With the film well underway into Production, Priyanka Chopra also joined as a co-Producer to the team. The film was mostly shot in New Delhi and the production wrapped around the end of December 2019. The White Tiger was released in selected theaters and a worldwide release on Netflix.

+ Main Cast

  1. Adarsh Gourav as Balram Halwai
  2. Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Pinky
  3. Rajkummar Rao as Ashok
  4. Mahesh Manjrekar as The Stork
  5. Vijay Maurya as Mukesh ‘The Mongoose’
  6. Kamlesh Gill as Granny

+ Plot

The White Tiger is a once in a lifetime creature; the beast who seizes his moment by force. Such is Balram Halwai from the Indian Halwai lower caste. Balram wants to leave his life of poverty and serve his master in the city. But upon witnessing the injustice between the elite and the poor, Balram has a change and heart and decides to cultivate his own fate.

+ High Points

i – What I absolutely love about Ramin Bahrani’s films is that no matter which country or background, the films he makes are extremely authentic and true to the land/ culture where the film takes place in. Of all the good India has, The White Tiger is also the unfortunate part of the real India. The caste system is extremely prevalent within the country side and into the Indian culture. And Bahrani highlights this problem with such ease and delicacy. 

ii – Adarsh Gourav playing the role of Balram Halwai is picture perfect casting and undoubtedly, the highlight of the film. As mentioned in the ‘Note’ section, his dive deep into method acting makes Gourav not only physically believable as the ‘common Indian man’ but also with every physical inflection and unspoken facial emotion of the actor. I cannot (for the life of me) ever imagine Aamir Khan or any other Bollywood Superstar playing this role. It would’ve totally tanked the credibility of the story but luckily, Bahrani’s insistence on choosing a relatively unknown actor for the lead role was the defining factor of the film.

iii – The script is adapted incredibly well onscreen by Bahrani (who serves as the sole writer of the screenplay). The film sets up the disparity (financially as well as psychologically) right from the start, allowing anyone unfamiliar with Hindu customs understand what the caste system is and how deeply ingrained it is into the Indian culture.

iv – The character arc of Balram from wide eyed naive boy who dreams of becoming big into a cynical, hopeless realist is written with such care and attention. Although he is never likable throughout his journey, you have to sympathize with his anguish and poisonous hatred for the elite as day by day, he realises how unfair life is and how there is no place for someone as naive as him to exist and not be taken advantage of.

v – The wide angle lens is extensively used throughout the film by the cinematographer Paolo Carnera and serves quite well in depicting the madness and claustrophobia of living in a busy city like New Dehli.

vi – The White Tiger is what Slumdog Millionaire should have been; a hard, unforgiving depiction of the reality of Indian Poverty and the workings of the horrendous caste system. The film is unapologetic (which might turn some viewers away) but it is a story that must be told. There are millions of ‘Balrams’ living in India who have no voice, who are faceless in the world where injustice prevails. The film absolutely does not sugarcoat any of the harsh realities of life in India and that, for me, was highly appreciable. 

+ Low Points

i – While the first and second act of the story are brilliantly realised onscreen, where The White Tiger unfortunately fails for me is the third act. All that great buildup is ultimately paid off in such a whimper of a fashion where the story just ‘ends’ and as a viewer, you are left wanting more and ultimately, left unsatisfied with the conclusion. Perhaps that is what the director intended but it sadly doesn’t make for compelling storytelling.

ii – It must be mentioned that as a fan of Bahrami’s work, I do miss his earlier, neo realist, documentary style of filmmaking (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) as opposed to later in his career, more cinematic approach (99 Homes, The White Tiger). Perhaps the authenticity of the story of The White Tiger would have been even more prevalent if the film was shot with slightly less polished cinematography and editing, bringing a more documentary, realist look to it.

iii – After watching the film, The White Tiger does leave you dower and ‘indifferent’. And that is unfortunate because Gurav is such a sympathetic and likable character but the twist and turns of the last act leaves nothing worth rooting for.

+ Overall

The White Tiger is an emotional, moving story of millions of Indians who are forced and brainwashed to live in the brutal, centuries old caste system. Even though the third act fails to deliver, The White Tiger is still an essential journey that everyone should go through.

Rate: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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