Readers Write In #133: Parasite and The White Tiger: Doing what it takes

Posted on January 22, 2020

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(by Adhithya K R)

The White Tiger was one of the darkest books that I’ve read. The book started with a former driver explaining that he had murdered his employer. It hadn’t been very difficult because his master had trusted him. For a while, after reading it, I was puzzled by how people trusted others so easily. The key they kept under their doormats for convenience could be used to unlock their front door at any time. Somebody who knew the routine of their morning jog could arrange for them to be mugged. A routine drive could lead them to an isolated spot and they could make the headlines in tomorrow’s paper. How could they even know?

The answer came to me a while later. No man is an island, even a criminal – To take an insane risk, there had to be a counterweight that justified their actions. All that crime, all that adventure had to amount to something: A material gain that could be enjoyed with friends or family. Barring psychopathic tendencies, it’s very hard to turn your back to the possibility of a lawman standing around the corner, looking over your shoulder all the time. Why else are almost all superheroes orphans? There’s no joy in endangering family life for a vigilante existence.

But what if your whole family was in on the mission?

I can’t think of a better exploration of this idea than the movie Parasite. Focusing on a family that is committed to doing whatever it takes to get out of their subterranean house, it was a perfect heist that had a lot more at stake. It was all about the family, about the life they shared, and there were was never a clash of personal ego; Even at the stage the dad is called a loser by the mom, all he does is fake an outburst. If taken in an Indian milieu, the story could have turned on its head at its peak when the family celebrates the farce they have pulled off – The mother might have related with the pathetic house-owner and a few teary realisations later, it might have headed for one big melodramatic finish. But no – No moral scruples in this story. Once the poor gain a foothold in the house, they treat the poorer than them in a poorer manner than they have been treated all their lives.

Balram in The White Tiger had strong thematic parallels to this too. In one scene, for example, he is intrigued by the description of the prostitute that his master visits with and saves up money to spend time with her. Then we get this:

“We talked for a while. I jumped out of bed. ‘Why are you here, sister? I’m here to protect you.’ Sure I said that – In the Hindi film they’ll make of my life. ‘Time to get started!’ That’s what I actually said.”

A very Nayagan-esque scene is brought crashing down in a no-nonsense manner. He recollects with fondness the man who got him the job of a driver and later describes how he blackmailed the same man. Balram is a glimpse of not what humans could be, he is a slice of what they are. In fact, his character is an amalgamation of the four characters from Parasite. The boy who remarks on the “metaphorical nature” of every situation, prone to delusions of grandeur. The scheming sister, the brains behind the whole operation. The mother capable of handling any situation with a level head. And “No plan” dad, the seemingly calm man who crosses the line eventually. In fact, Balram has a lot in common with Kim. They’re both drivers and they’re privy to the internal lives of their masters. Small things tip both of them in the end, a careless gesture driving them over the cliff – From grief or confusion to murderous rage.

Parasite and The White Tiger both tell stories of the poor infiltrating the systems of the rich. Both culminate with a driver murdering his master – One toppling the carefully constructed castle of cards and the other obtaining freedom from his ‘rooster coop’. Kim explodes in anger over his shattered family. Balram is able to leverage the murder because he has made peace with what will follow, the murder of his entire family.

Ties of blood tear apart the parasite. They lament forever in their dark basements because they are not unprincipled, even though it looks that way sometimes. The White Tiger is a different beast though, prepared to do whatever it takes to escape the darkness. And you never know if it’s lurking in the vicinity.