Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 5 minutes, Director – Ramin Bahrani
A young man (Adrash Gourav) works his way through India’s social divide by becoming the driver for a wealthy, if dubious, family.
“I’m going to Delhi in an air conditioned car!” Balram (Adrash Gourav) gleefully exclaims out of the window of an almost otherwise silent, pristine, latest-model car with the best gadgets spread throughout it as he glides past a dirty, overflowing bus in the dusty roads impacted by the heat of the Indian sun. While for his employers going to the city, even the rest of the world, is almost a regular occurrence Balram has stayed put in his village for nearly his entire life. After excelling at school he was told from a young age that he would be a white tiger – a rare, once in a generation person – he’s still waiting for his shining fortune to arrive. However, after his father passes away, owing money to the landlord who owns the village, school is abandoned so that Balram can work to pay his father’s debts, alongside keeping the rest of his family going.
On getting a job driving for the family, acting more as a servant than a driver – partly down to the family’s first driver – Balram’s life gradually begins to change. While he lives a life of servitude he’s earning far more money than he initially did work in a tea room, and the luxurious environment consistently surprises him. Yet, despite all the joys and wonders that he experiences the class divide creates a number of struggles for him. Balram is tested, and occasionally abused, by his employers – he is viewed as lesser because of his alleged lower-caste. The only two people who seem to treat him as a human are son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) – both back from the lavish heights of American cities.
Ashok insists that he is called by his name instead of constantly hearing “sir” or “master”, Balram begins to feel like an equal amongst him, despite still residing in the bare underground surroundings of servant quarters, away from the hotel suites where his employers work. The conversation in such areas is very different to that of the dubious actions of the, some of whom will gladly resort to bribery to keep their wealth and status. Similarly, as he becomes increasingly mistreated Gourav’s central figure becomes even more angered by the abuse of social power that he is first-hand experiencing. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani’s screenplay – adapted from Aravind Adiga’s award winning novel of the same name – becomes much more personal for his central figure as the language becomes much more violent. Tension begins to build-up within this dramatic satire as darker elements are brought in and Balram begins to question his own personal thoughts and feelings. It’s not until this second half when you truly realise just how good Gourav’s performance is, how much emotion and impact he stores within the piece and how he allows those around him to shine too.
He, alongside the film, begins to ask “do we loathe our masters behind a façade of love, or do we love them behind a façade of loathing?” As such themes come further into play the film becomes an even better pairing with last year’s Parasite. The tension is boosted by Danny Bensi and Saunday Jurrians’ layered score, alongside the film’s soundtrack, which finds itself embracing the culture and locations of the film, truly boosting the mood and tone of the piece. Everything combines to create a detailed character arc revolving around a rise through the Indian class system. Not without its humour, and certainly hitting hard on the satire side, this is certainly a personal story for the main character. One that comes across in his convincing rage that builds across the narrative and forms an interesting and engaging look into his behaviours and conversations with people of different social standings in the country, as he himself evolves through their dark undercurrents.
A finely scripted satirical drama that’s certainly not without its tensions, The White Tiger is a layered piece of filmmaking led by a strong performance from Gourav whose increasing anger commands almost every scene.