The White Tiger, 2021

Netflix | Rated R | 128 Minutes | Review

The White Tiger, released by Netflix on January 22, 2021 is a graphic story of a lower caste (lower class) young man in India struggling to break free from the station he was born into. The Iranian director, Ramin Bahrani, a professor at Columbia University, also produced and wrote the screenplay based on Aravind Adiga’s novel of the same name.

Adarsh Gourav, who plays the lead character Balram, is a difficult hero to like, probably because he acts the part so well.  The subservience exhibited feels so genuine, and shocking, from an American point of view.  And yet he portrays the difficult reality that so few of us are aware of.

The story of Balram starts when he is very young.  Although he shows promise as a bright student his grandmother takes him out of school and puts him to work to support the family.  All aspects of his youth are controlled, and his caste determines his very limited future.  Although Indian society’s caste system will never consider him higher than he was born, his intelligence and rejection of his status will place him on the journey to become a White Tiger.  A White Tiger is a very rare success story in India when the individual finds a path to great success that would likely have been impossible.

Balram eventually becomes a driver for the son of a regional criminal.  The youngest son, Ashok, and his wife Pinky have returned from New York.  The Americanized views of Ashok and Pinky make them very uneasy in the presence of Balram’s extreme subservience, and they make a half-hearted attempt to treat him as an equal.  But the class system is difficult to erase.  Meanwhile, Ashok begins to have a greater involvement in his corrupt family, becoming the bag man for the bribes being paid to the politicians to secure protection for their nefarious business dealings.

Celebrating Pinky’s birthday one-night Ashok and Pinky get very drunk.  Balram is replaced behind the wheel and a drunken joyride ends when they hit a child.  Balram encourages them to leave the scene and later minimalizes the whole event.  Ashok’s wealthy family treats Balram as a hero, and they lavish praise on him.  But they still consider him as less than human and manipulate him into signing a confession, which Balram feels he must do to serve.  Balram continues his journey to become a White Tiger.  How he does is it may leave you speechless.

Priyanka Chopra, as Pinky, was the standout performer in The White Tiger.  Although she spent several years on the ABC television series ‘Quantico’, she may not be well known.  However, she is a former Miss World 2000 pageant winner and has been an award-winning star in Bollywood since then.  She contributes to many of the humorous scenes in The White Tiger, and is the progressive, Americanized voice encouraging Balram to rise against the role his caste has placed him in.

The White Tiger feels like an accurate and convincing portrayal of life in India and the extreme inequality of the caste system.  The reality of a country with 1.3 billion people is stark, and shocking, and some of the images will stay with you.  A controversial ending sticks with you as well, but extremes are often needed to tell an engaging story.  The White Tiger is a window into a different world, and I score this movie a 7 out of 10.  Stories related to a rise from poverty are common, but the quality here comes from the locations and performances, and how the viewer reacts. For better understanding do a little research on the caste system and your eyes will be opened to some of what Balram explains.

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