New to Netflix: ‘The White Tiger’ is a Must See | Review
My last experience watching a Netflix original movie left me feeling pretty underwhelmed. But almost as if the universe was trying to send me some sort of sign to not give up on them just yet, the movie ‘The White Tiger‘ kept popping up in my feed. So I rolled one up, grabbed some munchies and dived in, and I have to say – this is one of the best films I’ve seen in a while.
A Quick Synopsis of ‘The White Tiger’
‘The White Tiger’ follows our hero Balram Halwai as he rises from his poor, low caste upbringing in Laxmangarh, India to become a successful entrepreneur. We see him as a child of poverty, not really given much opportunity to build a better future for himself, and any opportunity that does come along is quickly crushed.
As Balram grows into an adult, the hopelessness of it all still exists, until he comes up with the idea to become the new private driver for the son of his home village’s landlord. Convinced it will help him climb out of poverty and driven by admirable determination (with a bit of desperation too), he ends up getting the job.
Balram meets and builds a bond with his new boss, Ashok, who has recently returned to India from America to start and grow a new business. But no matter how hard Balram tries to fit in with this boss and Ashok’s family, he is always seen as beneath him, creating strange dynamics that sends the story into very dark places.
What Makes ‘The White Tiger’ So Good?
‘The White Tiger’ was directed by Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani and adapted from a 2008 novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga. There are a lot of elements to this film that make it so engaging. First, the characters are incredibly well written, most notably the films protagonist Balram. The Balram we watch grow up in the beginning is very different from the Balram at the end who also narrates the tale for us. The movie does such a good job of showing us not just how, but why his character evolves, and even as his judgement and actions become questionable, it’s done so well that audiences can’t help but empathize with him.
The dialogue, most notably Balram’s narration throughout the movie, is also very well written. The various layers of the plot is not at all hidden from the viewer or shrouded in subtleties. Every theme is laid out in a straightforward way, feeling almost simple, but still with so much depth. The way Balram discusses being poor, his evolving views on his overbearing family, and even the questionable aspects of his upbringing and culture are absolutely brilliant.
The characters Ashok and his wife Pinky also present well written characters with many layers. While Ashok was born and raised in India and Pinky was born in America to Indian immigrant parents, both of them seemed to represent two people that have lost a lot of connections with their roots, and come off very ‘Americanized’. This does make them the only characters that are of a higher caste than Balram and willing to treat him with some level of respect, but despite believing that treating Balram as a slave or below them is wrong, and even at times calling him a friend, they still have the capacity to take advantage of their privilege at his expense.
A Critique of Indian Culture & the Caste System
As someone who has lived in America all my life and have yet to leave, the religious and social traditions of Indian culture is very foreign to me. Similar to films like Slumdog Millionaire, ‘The White Tiger’ gives a bit of insight into that world, most notably the still existent caste system of India and the perpetuation of poverty among those of a low caste.
There are what seems to be crazy dynamics at play to keep Balram (and people like him) ‘in his place’ in society, not really giving him any room to advance or build a promising future. And even as his ambition to do better for himself begins to elevate him, everyone around him seems to want to drag him back down, even his family.
And this is truly the core of the films plot – the hopelessness of Balram’s ‘role’ as the servant in life creates a desperation in people like him that are determined enough to rise above it. Unfortunately, they may have to do some questionable things to even get to a point where they are no longer a slave or servant, but now a master. And the ending to the film begs the question – can you blame him?
I can’t even begin to recommend this film enough. It’s beautifully directed and incredibly well written. You will find yourself identifying and ultimately caring for each character and their outcomes. And the numerous layers to the film will have you analyzing it for hours after it’s over. I definitely recommend puffing with a friend or significant other and giving this one a go.