As the son of Iranians who emigrated to the United States, Iranian-American director and producer Ramin Bahrani has always tried to showcase marginalized characters in a nuanced way. He worked on this project for fifteen years. Screenwriter Aravand Adiga, whose 2008 book of the same name was adapted, has worked with him for some time. The white tiger depicts the rise of a humble driver via a criminal path to the top of society.
Young Balram (Adarsh Gourav) lives in a poor village in the countryside. He sees big city criminal gang leaders playing the handsome gentleman. This inspired him to settle in a wealthy family. With a job as a driver, Balram hopes to climb. The film was conceived from the point of view of the young man. With her narrative voice, we are brought into the corrupt world of India in a compelling way. The only way forward is corruption. Bribing politicians to avoid taxes is a daily routine for the wealthy family he works for.
The way the criminal ecosystem is portrayed reminds GoodFellas by Martin Scorcese. Bahrani adds its social dimension. It turned into a dazzling spectacle, with attention to detail typical of the director. A few highlights where we see people begging illustrate this. When Balram has a bad day, he is constantly disturbed by a beggar. His temper tantrum is out of proportion. Later, when he tries to improve his life and gives alms, his employer ignites: you don’t give money to beggars.
India has a strong caste system; there are four main wardrobes and you have the outcasts. The film only mentions two castes, the poor and the rich. Apparently the middle class does not exist. The destruction of the middle class is a major theme in Bahrani’s work. At all costs from 2012, it is about the way in which the peasantry loses its land and its bread. This is currently the case with Bill Gates as the largest owner of farmland in the United States. Too 99 homes (2014), on ruthless bailiffs, is relevant now. Bahrani has a strong sense of social abuse and is also a gifted storyteller.
For a mainstream film funded by the streaming service Netflix, the result is surprisingly extreme. Bahrani offers the viewer a ruthless and in-depth look at modern India and does so with eye-catching imagery without falling into empty exoticism. Moreover, as always, it elicited strong performances from the actors. The lead role in particular is endlessly fascinating.
We have been in Balram’s head for over two hours, Adash Gourav delivers a revolutionary performance. He plays a naturally shy character, but underneath that armor of submission, a caged tiger growls inside the young man. The actor knows how to convincingly shape Balram’s transformation into a ruthless criminal. The white tiger from the film’s title can be seen at the zoo in an undersized cage, but the majestic animal is just as impressive.
Ulrik van Tongeren