The 400-Word Review: The White Tiger
By Sean Collier
January 23, 2021
I’m not sure why “The White Tiger,” a respectable adaptation of a best-selling novel, left me feeling so flat. It simply didn’t work for me. I can’t quite pinpoint what is insufficient or disengaging about the film, yet I can barely muster an opinion on it.
I don’t mean to fully blame the movie; it could be me. There is undoubtedly a cultural difference at play; the story of an Indian man from a rural village scheming to overcome his born circumstances remains a fairly novel concept in southeast Asia. (That analysis is absolutely reductive, but it’s a short review.) Here, of course, every other Hollywood movie is about someone attempting to climb one ladder or another. Perhaps my failure to link with “The White Tiger” stems from an inability to connect to a geo-cultural difference.
Or maybe the filmmakers didn’t sell it. Hard to say.
Adapted from Aravind Adiga’s novel, “The White Tiger” follows plucky villager Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), who begins to question the unrewarded servitude expected of his low caste when he sees his father die young. After stopping his education early to work for his family, he comes up with a scheme: Become a driver for the local landlord’s children, ingratiate himself and angle for a better position.
He succeeds in this plan, largely due to the progressive attitudes of his new master, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), and his American-educated wife, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). When a twist of fate (seen in the de rigueur opening-scene teaser) exposes how expendable Balram is to his bosses, however, his ambitions turn dark.
Balram’s narration dwells on the light and dark sides of India’s regimented society; the character paints himself as a white tiger amid a bleak landscape, borrowing a metaphor used in his too-brief schooling. I wonder why writer/director Ramin Bahrani didn’t mirror that analogy visually. He’s an acclaimed filmmaker with an impressive festival pedigree, but in “The White Tiger,” he seems disinclined to do much that isn’t merely presentational.
Perhaps the stark nature of this film is meant as a contrast to the Oscar-winning fantasy “Slumdog Millionaire,” a Disney-fied version of a similar tale; Balram derisively name-checks that movie. I understand the director’s approach, as well as the generally blank-slate performance by Gourav.
It makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with “The White Tiger,” it just didn’t do much for me. I can’t imagine it will enthrall you, either.
My Rating: 5/10
“The White Tiger” is streaming on Netflix.