Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The White Tiger is a gritty, witty and immersive crime drama, based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Aravind Adiga. Directed by Ramin Bahrani, the cinematic adaptation follows the metamorphosis of Balram (Adarsh Gourav) from a servile driver for his wealthy master Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra), into an artful entrepreneur.
If you love the 2019 film Parasite, directed by the masterful Bong Joon-Ho, you will surely be fond of The White Tiger. No frame is wasted as the audience zooms along with the car, as they get to know the impoverished world our characters inhabit, accomplished with artistic and sudden close-ups of roaches on a mosquito net. Dim, sordid basements are contrasted with bright, high-rise Western-style hotels and colonial mansions. The miasma of oppression and squalor is visceral.
Meticulous cinematography is coupled with the witty narration of Balram. Some may find the pacing too slow, and the ending anticlimactic, but I don’t think this is a major problem. Ramin Bahrani spends a pain-staking amount of time on symbolism, social commentary and character dynamics, which offsets the repetitiveness of an archetypal rags-to-riches plotline. The plot evolves here and becomes an effective vehicle for bringing up themes, rather than being the main focus.
The characters are well-written and brought to life memorably. Everyone in the film is morally grey; plenty of their actions are cowardly or morally deplorable, and I appreciated how this is portrayed candidly. Balram’s employers are simultaneously generous, kind, indifferent and unmerciful. This rift is best portrayed in the dynamic between Balram and Ashok. Perversely, Ashok utters tone-deaf statements about individuality and treats Balram like a friend whilst drunk or happy but shows the capability to be abusive and vindictive when sober and stressed. Similarly, Pinky is wilful and friendly but acts without forethought.
As one of the more prominent female characters in a predominantly male film, Pinky automatically stood out, and Priyanka Chopra played her empathetically. She brings out the characters duality expertly well, combining a sincerity alongside a petulance and irresponsibility.
Adarsh Gourav’s phenomenal performance as Balram is almost reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019). In moments of pensiveness, we seem to be able to determine what he is thinking just by looking into his eyes. His range is extraordinary, from helpless tears to uncontrollable madness.
Although the tags for this movie are drama and crime, it is best described as a powerful comic tragedy. The film extends its debates on society, on freedom and on poverty within India to those of us who live far outside of this divided nation in a way that is undoubtedly exciting.
This is the type of film you will want to watch two to three times just to make sure you understood every part of it. It is the type of film people write thousand-word critical analyses on. Some viewers may find the pacing unsatisfactory and the story less riveting after the second act, but your patience will be rewarded with this film. This sort of inventive cinema is rare in a way akin to a real life white tiger, and it is well worth the watch.
Image: ArunMuraliNair via WikimediaCommons