Like Gemma Collins appointed as a spokesman for MENSA the chance of seeing a white tiger is a once in a lifetime thing the likes of which we’re unlikely to ever see. But stranger things have happened. Donald Trump became president only to be replaced by the even older Joe Biden, a man who could be assassinated just by choking on a Werthers Original. The White Tiger is one of two animal metaphors that the film uses and represents that once in a lifetime opportunity at least that’s how Balram (Adarsh Gourav), a low caste Hindu in India, sees it. His father is a low earning rickshaw worker earning a pittance and destined never to escape the poverty trap that he and his family are seemingly locked in. For Balram as a boy, though an earnest student, soon finds that his destiny will be the same when his father dies and he is forced to give up his education to work in a roadside tea shop to earn money for the family. But he has other ideas.
Based on the book The White Tiger opens with Balram dressed as a mock maharishi being driven at speed in the back of a 4 x 4 by a drunken woman Pinky (Priynaka Chopra) and her husband Ashok (Rajummar Rao) swerving around stray cattle in the road and other obstacles until the inevitable happens but with the film freeze framing just before that moment and rewinding to Balram as a boy. It’s the first of two hooks the film uses to draw you into the story, the latter being Balram later in life now seemingly rich and successful yet wanted for murder. Just how he has gotten to this point in his life is the basis of The White Tiger as one of those epic rags to riches stories and despite its fictional tale its insight into how the population of India tread a thin line between extreme poverty and opulent wealth.
In his bid to escape the seemingly inescapable poverty Balram has been born into and which the caste system constrains him he sees the chance to become the driver to the son of his family’s landlord and having ingratiated himself into the job but with his eyes on the prize to climb the ladder seeking out those white tiger opportunities. And it’s with the landlords son Ashok and his wife recently returned from America and far more progressive in their attitude as to how people should be treated unlike his father and brutal brother and so he treats Balram well.
But what the film makes clear is that corruption in India is rife with it impacting on everyone from the top down and there’s an irony that one of the political leaders, The Great Socialist (Swaroop Sampat), who publicly espouses the ethos of bettering oneself and rising from the gutter is privately potty mouthed and brutally corrupt taking massive cash in hand bribes from Ashok’s family so that they in turn can evade paying taxes – it’s little wonder that here the rich get richer whilst the poor are doomed to their circumstances. And its Balram, whose intentions are initially honourable, finds himself swimming in a sea of corruption that inevitably impacts on the decisions that he takes to climbing up the ladder in what is a dog eat dog world as he ultimately finds to his detriment when the landlord legally stitches him up. It’s a moment which determines Balram to make a calculating choice that sees him as cold hearted and ruthless as the landlord and his family.
Adarsh Gourav as Balram brilliantly treads an amoral line between right and wrong decisions and it’s easy to see why someone would do such things to escape what would be a endless cycle of poverty The White Tiger is hugely engrossing with its arguably controversial insight into a multi cultural society that suggests that Muslims take advantage over Hindus without conscience, the unfairness of the caste system, that life is cheap and disposable and the only way to the top in such a world is either through crime or politics though frankly, as has been seen time again across the world, it’s usually one and the same. With cinemas still closed its steaming that is providing so much it’s Netflix who again proved that they are a justifiable worry to the studios with films as good as The White Tiger.
Here’s The White Tiger trailer…..
THE WHITE TIGER IS RELEASED ON 22ND JANUARY 2021 ON NETFLIX