The White Tiger review – a rags to ruthless riches tale

January 22, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film Reviews, Netflix
4

Summary

The White Tiger is a wildly entertaining story of survival. A rags to ruthless riches tale about cutthroat class-warfare to break out of the caste system.

4

Summary

The White Tiger is a wildly entertaining story of survival. A rags to ruthless riches tale about cutthroat class-warfare to break out of the caste system.

It seems like too many critics are calling this newest Netflix film “epic” because it’s in the media guide. I wouldn’t call it that, not even close, but I would call it a wildly entertaining ride of survival. Based on Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning book of the same name, it tells a story of a systemic socio-economic problem much like Parasite did a year ago. Except for this time, only one man chops the top off tradition and performs some caste class-warfare on his masters to get his. “This is written” is what The White Tiger is not. It’s a cutthroat world. If you want to make it you have to take what’s coming to you for yourself, sever all ties, kick good men to the curb, and never look back. If protagonist Balram Halwair saw Jamal Malik walk down the street, he’d run him over and take Latika for himself.

Balram is played by newcomer Adarsh Gourav, in a terrific performance that ranges from politely uncouth to downright vicious. He talks his way out of his family’s clutches and into a job as the second driver for a young couple named Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas). He learns the ropes, watches from the shadows, and the servant con that he is playing is a long one. After a moment of unspeakable tragedy, he lets his guard down and starts to care for his masters as if they are family — not so fast. On the verge of being betrayed, he takes action.

The White Tiger was directed and adapted by Ramin Bahrani, a man who directed the gritty and great Chop Shop, and just like that film, captures the underbelly and fortitude of villages and urban life in this story’s surroundings. What a rebound after his disastrous 2018 HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. It’s a dynamic film, high-spirited, that’s full of rainbow-hued picturesque energy that outlines the city night sky or the countryside villages at dusk. Bahrani captures the original source material’s live wire pulse with each frame.

My one caveat would be the film version doesn’t truly capture the epic nature that spanned years in Adiga’s book. It cuts quickly to the big pay, malicious payoff, and wraps up a tad suddenly. Even at just under two hours, films should be as long or short as they need to be, and Tiger needed a bit more evil Balram in our lives.

The supporting performances are good here. Chopra-Jonas helped bring the film to screen as a producer, excels as a whip-smart East-Indian American woman who refuses to stay in the bedroom where she belongs with the degrees she “hangs on her walls.”

The film though is held up by Gourav, whose own descent into moral ambiguity was written long before his brush with the sweet smell of some fresh Paan and not that dried stuff that comes in packets like pop-rocks. His Balram, a white tiger, is one of the year’s best characters. Don’t let Gourav’s portrayal of Balram’s rags to ruthless riches tale pass you by.

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