Review: THE WHITE TIGER Is A Commendable Depiction Of Indian Class Structure, With Strange Choices

Published by Shah Shahid on

The White Tiger is a movie about the socio-economic class struggle within India. How the divide between the working class and the rich-elite, is massive. Not just solely based on one’s economic class, but many other factors that bleed into the other agreed-upon constructs of Indian society. While this The White Tiger review will deconstruct the movie itself, it’ll also discuss how the movie has a commendable message, but it makes some very odd choices in how it tells its story. 

The Story Of White Tiger Is The First Of Its Kind

Before I delve into the aspects of The White Tiger I had problems with, let me make it very clear: this is an important movie. It’s a movie that deals with subject matter that is important. The topic is one that both South Asians and non-South Asians with any interest in how everyday life in India (or others) is, need to experience. It’s also something of a universal idea that can be relatable to any culture where the class divide is very much a thing. 

It’s the story of a village-dwelling young boy named Balram (Adarsh Gourav). Despite his brilliance at a young age, Balram gets relegated to manual labor, as most boys in his situation are. However, his ambitions exceed his grasp. Wanting to have a better life than his brother, Balram aims to become the driver of a rich man, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao, Ludo). He takes off to the city, learns to drive, and weasels his way into the job. So far, it’s very much like the Oscar-winning Parasite, with similar themes and messages. 

The Leading Man Of The White Tiger Is A Genius

Gourav is one of the best new performers of a long time. Whatever problems I have with The White Tiger go away due to his performance. Almost in every single scene of the movie. Gourav carries the film. His performance is equal parts mesmerizing and bold. The strength of portraying the wild and varied emotions and the story arc that Balram experiences through the movie is remarkable. Gourav is the biggest takeaway from The White Tiger. Which also features Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao in somewhat parallel leading, or straight up supporting character roles. 

The White Tiger Review Is All About Some Weird Choices

While The White Tiger is about the small town Balram’s ambitions, it’s about the treatment of lower caste people like him within India’s society. He is looked down upon, mistreated, verbally, and physically abused, simply because of his place in society’. We’re treated to how terrible this is through the eyes of Ashok and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). Both NRI’s from America. Ashok’s father (Mahesh Manjrekar) and brother (Vijay Maurya) are very much part of the corrupt system of business people, stepping on the backs of the downtrodden to make their wealth. Ashok benefits from this, but still has a bit of reluctance at the mistreatment of Balram. 

Pinky, however, is totally an American-Indian, and it’s through her Western lens that we see how Balram’s situation is not as great as even Balram thinks it is. But even then, Pinky’s privilege comes through. There’s a conversation where she tries to instill self-awareness within Balram, telling him how being a servant is not a worthy goal in life. She shares a story about her middle-class family in Jersey (?) Having a store and struggling to ‘make it’. But it’s almost comical, if not tragic, that she’s unaware of her own privilege, talking about the struggles of small business ownership in America, compared to Balram’s comparatively worse situation. 

The Total Trinity Of Economic Statuses Represented In The Story

In a way, this trio of characters represents the various degrees of privilege and poverty in India. Pinky being the liberal Western side of things, naively thinking her own values and morals will somehow bring about change. While Ashok is the more moderate thinking one, whose ideals are ever-shifting, depending on how each situation impacts him personally. He doesn’t like corruption but has to pay off politicians. He hates how his family treats Balram, but only speaks out enough to placate his own conscience. Whereas Pinky, despite her own woke perspective of things, ends up not being able to handle it when things get too overwhelming. 

And that’s sort of the genius of The White Tiger. While not a perfect movie, it’s the best version of a story we’ve ever gotten that deals with the servant class stories, about them being servants, that showcase all sides of things. There are no heroes or villains here. But everyone is a victim of circumstance of their situation. Obviously, some are better off than others. And how that plays against each other, is the main premise of The White Tiger.

Where Things Go Off The Rails

Now, despite all these amazing concepts on-screen that play out not too terribly, The White Tiger makes some weird choices in its storytelling. For instance, Balram speaks in English for most of the movie. They kind of explain it in the framing device of how the story is told entirely in flashback, narrated to an English-speaking character. So, that makes sense. But during the flashback itself, even when Balram is interacting with characters who don’t know English, those scenes play out in English. It’s weird and distracting and an odd choice from director Ramin Bahrani. 

At a time when foreign-language films are all the rage, and subtitles are fast becoming less of a barrier and more something that excites the audience, it’s weird that this wasn’t a thing here. The movie’s authenticity would be better served if it depicted those moments genuinely, instead of seeming to cater to non-Hindi-speaking audiences. Or rather, that’s what it felt like. Other depictions are also baffling. Like Balram’s descent from eager servant to the homicidal victim, to a mastermind out of nowhere. The ending of the movie was definitely rushed and just seemed to frantically wrap up its story. 

The White Tiger Review Is Good Until Something Better Comes Along

My review of The White Tiger is about how it’s an important movie that tells stories that we usually don’t see in mainstream Bollywood cinema. But measuring its impact objectively, it doesn’t do so in a way that is authentic or genuine of the story it’s telling. It feels like the movie fills a void, so it stands out, at least until something better comes along? 

The White Tiger is now streaming on Netflix. 

Image via Netflix. 

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


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