THE WHITE TIGER pounced from India to the internet in 2021, written & directed by Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes), who condensed the 318 pages of Aravind Adiga’s award-winning 2008 novel into 125 enthralling minutes of screen time. Smart and ferocious, hungry and cornered, it takes a powerful swipe against the overlords of social and economic captivity. With immediacy, depth and poignance worthy of “Oliver Twist”, its Dickensian up-from-the-depths-at-all-costs flavor also echoes the more recent likes of Slumdog Millionaire and Parasite. The roller coaster ride from the bottom up of its outwardly invisible, inwardly remarkable protagonist concludes with what is essentially a battle cry to the oppressed. If they won’t give it, we must take it.
Stymied by the poverty and demands of his caste, region and family, bright and ambitious ‘Balram Halwai’ (Adarsh Gourav) determines to better himself; his pluck impresses the son of the rich family who rules his village to take him on as a chauffeur. Though ‘Ashok’ (Rajkummar Rao) and his American-raised wife ‘Pinky’ (Priyanka Chopra) treat Balram with relative kindness, events will prove that once a servant, always a servant. To change his life—to save his life—Balram does what he has to.
Everything and everyone clicks, but it’s the superlative breakthrough performance from the beguiling, emotions-conducive Gourav that gives the movie its grace, beauty and power; clumsy and charming, open and guarded, tragic and triumphant as his peasant victim-hero transitions from abasement to arrival. Gourav, 26, was a relative unknown in India, let alone internationally. His portrait of a survivor’s will conquering inbred vulnerability demands to usher in the same kind of star recognition achieved by Dev Patel.
Oscar-nominated for Screenplay. With Vijay Maurya (‘the Mongoose’), Mahesh Manjrekar (‘the Stork’), Kamlesh Gill (‘Granny’–thanks for nothing, witch) and Nalneesh Neel (coarse fellow driver ‘Vitiligo’). Shot in Delhi.