The White Tiger on Netflix: aka The revenge of Ramu kaka, starring Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao

Posted on January 26, 2021


white tiger

Like in ‘99 Homes’, Ramin Bahrani directs with an eye on narrative propulsion rather than subtlety – but the film is compulsively watchable. And Adarsh Gourav is a star.

Spoilers ahead…

The White Tiger is based on a book (Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker-winner) so let’s begin with the literariness of the protagonist’s language. He’s called Balram (he’s played as an adult by Adarsh Gourav), and he hails from Laxmangarh, which could be another name for Anyvillage, India. Of his family cramped in a single room, he says they slept with legs twisted over each other so as to resemble one creature, a millipede. Of the caste system (which he equates with class), he says, “These days there are only two castes: people with big bellies and people with small bellies.” Of his strange countrymen, he says, “Open up our brown skulls and look inside with a penlight: you will find all these ideas half-formed, half-correct…” (Translate it to Hindi, and it becomes a smashing Salim-Javed line!) Even the names of a few characters sound literary, Rushdie-esque: The Stork, or The Great Socialist.

But only Balram speaks this way. Rather, he writes this way. All of what he says is contained in a letter addressed to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, who is visiting India. The director, Ramin Bahrani, has moved far away from the indie auteur who burst on the scene with fly-on-the-wall features like Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. He’s now a more flamboyant filmmaker, as we saw in his last theatrical feature, 99 Homes. (Like White Tiger, it’s a social-realist melodrama that pairs a have with a have-not.) Early on, we get a shot that takes in Balram meditating in a room with flamingo-themed wallpaper, and slowly, the camera zooms in so close to its subject that his face – slightly altered by perspective – fills the frame like a grotesque mask. But when it comes to Balram’s letter, Bahrani doesn’t replace it with a “cinematic” equivalent. He (wisely, I think) lets it remain the ironic distancing device it is: it alerts us that Balram is (at least partially) putting on an act with his carefully constructed writing. The earnest (and sometimes strained) literariness is his “I have arrived” statement.

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