In “The White Tiger,” Bahrani’s first cinematic excursion to take place outside the capitalist greed of the United States, the filmmaker – who both directed and wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of the 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel. Indian author Aravind Adiga – puts his eye analysis on the world underclass. While less imaginative in his style of world-building here than in his approach to the 24-hour news cycle of Ray Bradbury’s seminal text, Bahrani has maintained the dark and progressively resentful energy of Adiga’s early days. Like the work of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid (especially his 2008 novel The reluctant fundamentalist, which Mira Nair adapted in a 2012 film starring Riz Ahmed), Adiga’s “The White Tiger” focuses on the gap between the haves and have-nots, the injustice suffered by the latter in relation to the first and the inciting incident that could finally spark an uprising. Bahrani stays close to the source material, trusting lead actor Adarsh Gourav to take us through the life of poverty that could inspire a moment of radicalization, and that faith is justified. Gourav hardens before our eyes in a performance that oscillates between immature recklessness, calcifying fury, and justified boastfulness, and this multifaceted quality is key to the intentionally uncomfortable nature of “The White Tiger.”
Bouncing between the early 2000s, 2007 and 2010, “The White Tiger” follows protagonist Balram Halwai (Gourav, and played as a child by Harshit Mahawar), who tells his life story as part of a letter written to (now former) Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, visiting India. (A storytelling tactic taken directly from the novel, that storytelling gets awkward here as an intrusion of international politics into an otherwise intimate story.) Balram is an entrepreneur, he boasts, but he doesn’t come from nothing: he grew up in the rural town. Laxmangarh, where his grandmother dictated every move. Although Balram was a strong student, his grandmother took him out of school to work in the family tea shop, pounding lumps of coal. Her father died of tuberculosis. Her brother was forced into an arranged marriage. The only way out of this lower caste life was in place, so when Balram surprises that the owner of the godfather-style village, nicknamed the Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar), is looking for a second driver for his returning American son Ashok ( Rajkummar Rao), Balram decides that this person will be him.
The decision puts Balram on a path he describes, in his narration, with a mutilated combination of triumph and shame. He convinces his recalcitrant grandmother to give him money for driving lessons in return for the majority of his future income. When he is hired and moves into the Stork family compound in Delhi, he is overly respectful and perfectly obedient, taking on more tasks and continually belittling himself to gain family approval. Balram cleans rugs, sleeps on the floor, rubs oil on the stork’s calves, and argues that he deserves a fraction of the already modest salary they offer. Much of this inferiority is inbreeding, Balram says, the result of thousands of years of a rigid caste system (“big bellied men and small bellied men”), amplified by hundreds of millions of people. who are fighting for the same low paying jobs. , further amplified by the gap between India’s poor, both rural and urban, and the increasingly inaccessible wealth of the few. Balram has been angry for a long time, and the charged attitude of his storytelling presents it bleeds into the past, coloring his interactions with the stork and his family as we sense something horrible, violence no money. can not fix, happens. .