The White Tiger: A reflection of class oppression and the struggle to break free
Literature proves that class difference and the consequent power play is as old as humanity itself. The lower class man is entitled to servitude, while the affluent class-ego appeases at the cost of mistreating and insulting. The poor, rise up through diligent, hard work, while the rich continuously try to "conditionally empower" them. But throughout this struggle, their ultimate goal is to break the rigid class structure and make it to the top.
Parasite, Is love enough, Sir and Slumdog Millionaire all talk about it, in their own unique manner. The underdog wants a taste of the riches life. Which, in technicality, they are very close to, (as servants) but in reality, accounts for nothing at all.
The White Tiger also illustrates a similar tale. Based on Aravind Adiga's 2008 Booker prize-winning novel, the book reflects how the less-privileged may sometimes resort to extreme measures to break out of the clutches of poverty. Despite being a foreigner, director Ramin Bahrani does justice to characters, and incidents in the film, reflecting his in-depth understanding of the Indian culture and systems.
"America is so yesterday; India and China are so tomorrow," says Balram Halwai, (played by Adarsh Gourav) in his email to the Chinese Premier, who is visiting India to meet with Indian entrepreneur. Balram outlines his rags-to-riches story through the email, where he reveals his journey to be full of darkness.
Balram is the face of every Indian working-class Indian. He calls them the "rooster coup". As in people who have accepted their fate, and are willing to live their entire life serving others. But Balram is different, Balram is the white tiger.
Born in an impoverished village of Uttar Pradesh, he is the only bright student in his class. And just when he is about to get a scholarship, he is forced to drop out. It is then, as Balram nurses his ailing father, he first encounters inequality and corruption. He grows up to understand that the only way out is to break the loop.
He finds a driving job with the US-return son of the town's landlord, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his Brooklyn-born wife Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). He finds comfort in the modern couple, as they are against the subhuman treatment of servants. But soon, the stork and mongoose (Ashok's father and brother) are hell-bent of dragging Ashok down to their level. And soon Balram realises that the couple is willing to exploit and abandon him, for their own selfish purposes.
Cut to the beginning of the film, when Pinky while drunk-driving on a foggy night in Delhi, accidentally hits a kid with her car. The family sees Balram as an easy scapegoat and blackmail him, to legally take responsibility for the hit and run case. Luckily for him, the police don't come tracing.
Once, a loyal, hardworking an innocent boy. Balram now is filled with anger and deceit for his master, who he initially thought very highly of. And that's when he plans to start his next move. Bahrani and Adiga have both stressed well on different mentalities of people from the coup. For some servitude is life, one job after the other. But Balram has learned well from his master, about business, and the riches way of living. And that forms the backbone for his rise to riches.
Bahrani captures the very nitty-gritty of the Indian class divide. The lower strata despise the subhuman treatment, but often have been taught to make peace with it. But the white tiger is different. The parallels drawn between the animal and the human world are essential to signify the behavioural differences. The film is dark not because of the story, but because of the endless struggle, that class and caste divide hold for people.
Adarsh Gourav holds the character to heart effortlessly and is able to capture the audience's sympathy to his benefit. It is through him we are grown to believe, that he can end up differently. Whether he is slavish to his masters, or standing up against his family, Balram strongly portraits his wish to break free.
TBC Rating - 4/5
Where to watch - Netflix