The world is split into two halves: wealth and poverty. How does a poor boy from Laxmangarh hope to escape the caste system that is intent on keeping him a prisoner? We will find out with my review of the 2021 American drama, The White Tiger.
The White Tiger, based on Aravind Adiga’s novel, was directed by Ramin Bahrani and stars Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, and Priyanka Chopra. The story revolves around Balram (Adarsh Gourav) as he tells his life story in an email to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao before his visit to India in 2010. Balram is a successful entrepreneur with a fleet of taxis…but through flashbacks we learn about his childhood of poverty and his existence in the underclass of India society.
Balram, as a child was able to go to school, and he was so smart that his teacher called him a “white tiger,” someone who comes only once in a generation, but the fickle finger of fate steps in and prevents Balram from receiving a scholarship to a Delhi school. The people of his town are poor, and his father works long hours just to put food on the table for his family. When Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar), the village landlord and wealthy coal baron, threatens to kill the family if the taxes are not paid, Balram’s grandmother pulls him out of school to work in a shop. It is then that Balram realizes that the poor are no better than the roosters kept in cages. The roosters know they will die, but they don’t try to escape. The rich have broken the spirit of the poor people, and they are too afraid to escape.
After his father’s tragic death, Balram decides that he doesn’t want to live like the roosters in cages and gets his grandmother to pay for his driving lessons, which enables him to get a job as the number two driver for the Stork family. He is surprised to see that Stork’s son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Ashok’s wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) treat him respectfully. Balram is lured into feeling like an equal with his bosses, and even admires Ashok, as do we…but that daydream soon comes to a crashing end.
No matter how Balram tries to improve himself, he will never be seen as anything more than a servant…a servant that is forced to take the blame for a death that he had no part in. If Balram doesn’t sign the confession, Stork will kill his entire family. Luckily one of Balram’s young nephews is living with him, unbeknownst to his bosses.
I am not going to tell you how the movie ends or what becomes of Balram and his nephew, because this is a film that must be seen to understand what steps Balram has to take to escape the rooster coup and…why he is emailing the Chinese Premier. The film would be depressing to watch because it shows the perpetual state of poverty and servitude of India’s poor, but Adarsh Gourav’s Balram enables us to taste this bitter dish because of his humorous outlook on life and his cunning and wit.
The White Tiger is on Netflix. Please watch it. It’s always good for the soul to step out of its comfort zone .