Aravind Adiga therefore becomes one of the few authors who have seen two of their books become fodder for a movie – it was Selection Day earlier and now its White Tiger. Selection Day opened to mixed reviews. Let’s see what a White Tiger review has to offer.
Balram Halwai is a young man in a poor village who wants to make it big. Which he cannot, because his life is marred by various aspects – including poverty and a kind of matriarchy that’s prevalent all around but we never speak about it. But being the enterprising guy that he is, he somehow wrangles out of the village and lands at the doors of the only landlord that he knows, which the movie refers to as The Crane. Again, being the enterprising guy that he is, he gets the creamy job of a driver of the youngest son (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife (Priyanka Chopra Jonas).
Balram is overawed by the lifestyle of the American return son and wife, who actually treat him like a human being – a stark difference to the way The Crane and his son, The Mongoose, treat him. But as they say, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and it this case it’s a life. That’s when Balram, the son and the wife’s life spiral back to the uneasy reality that’s the connection between a servant and the employer in Asia.
Make no mistake about it, Aravind Adiga wrote to shock. This book was launched in 2008, and the very idea that people still refer to their employers as Masters is exactly what would have created the ‘woke’ generation. But its 2021, and with the recent happenings all over the world, we know that we live in an unequal world.
So, right off the bat, the sting in the book – and therefore the screenplay – is no longer there. With so many sequences that are in the book now available as headlines or bytes from interviews, the audience is no longer shocked. And an unshocked audience also means an unentertained one.
The issues in the movie have now gained such seriousness that it is no longer enough – or justified – to make a movie about it.
And with that, we come to the director, Rahmin Bahrani. Make no doubt about it, he has won accolades and awards and award nominations for the movies that he has made. His filmography looks similar to Daniel Day Lewis’.
But at the end of the day, his direction of The White Tiger seems like a Nepean Sea Road socialite trying to generate empathy for her maid from Dharavi, who has two husbands, three kids, and no home by talking about her during one of her kitty parties, coldly sipping a Screaming Eagle and slightly nibbles on a Kobe Streak.
That’s because the movie and the book was sold with the wrong tagline. You will find that out as you watch the movie.
Slitting someone’s throat is not using wit to rise to the top. It’s murder.
Film lovers will see how Bahrani uses the rain as a prop and a symbol for his character, something that Stephen King did in his legendary movie, Shawshank Redemption. Once you get on that string, you cannot unthink that the movie’s screenplay and concept is very similar to Shawshank. You have a man who’s trapped in his surroundings because of things he didn’t do. You have one unfortunate incident that slides him further down, and well, then you have the climax where the camera focuses on the protagonist’s back for a while. Unfortunately, Stephen King told us of a time that’s long gone. Rahmin Bahrani wants to tell us about something that we already know and are beyond caring.
On the performance front, Rajkummar Rao delivers what he’s supposed to. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is excellent in her role. Mahesh Manjrekar channels all the villainy he’s seen in his celluloid and real life – that guy made Mee Shivaji Raje Boltoy and Vaastav. Adarsh Gourav, who plays Balram, has done justice to his role and will have a comfortably placed career making more movies in his life.
What’s Wow: If you like the Bollywood blockbusters of yore, this is a modern take on them.
What’s Blah: It’s too much of what the Indian audience wants to forget and reads in the headlines all through the week.
Parting Shot: Watch it only if you have nothing interesting to binge.
Cast and Crew:
Cast: Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, Priyanka Chopra, Mahesh Manjrekar
Director: Rahmin Bahrani
Watch the trailer here: