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White Tiger Review: A Stunning Masterpiece



The White Tiger(Netflix)

Directed  by  Ramin  Bahrani

Rating: **** 

   There are so many layers to this drama of demoniacal  discrimination that defines the New India, that  you may need to watch the  film at least twice to even begin to  understand what director Ramin Bahrani has done to Arvind Adiga’s celebrated  2008  novel . Without beating around  the bush let’s get  one thing straight:  The White Tiger is  no ordinary film.

It is an exceptionally  deep and brutal study of India’s complicated  class structure. It  ruthlessly opens up wounds  of discrimination and exploitation that never  healed. We may call the underprivileged class in India what we  please. Their plight and status remain  unchanged. As  the Indian social structure hurls  dangerously towards  a  total anarchy with the have-nots  reduced to simple  noughts in the  tricks of  official demography,  a film  such  this, made by an outsider  posseses  the dispassionate distance  of  vision to see the truth  and confront  probe and excavate  truths  about social discrimination that we scarcely recognize.

Our hero in The White Tiger is a wily,shrewd opportunist, a driver  in a family of fortune hunters. Balram Halwai is that  fly on the wall whom we  don’t even notice while we  go about our business of  living a satisfactory  life  by our own definitions. In one  telling sequence  NRIAshok(Rajkummar Rao) and his America-bred Indian wife Pinky(Priyanka Chopra Jonas) make  out in the backseat as if the driver is  invisible.  The  driver has his hands on the front of his pants as he stares into rear-view mirror.Such moments define the  class distinction and  the  moral dynamics  of a social structure where we  don’t even treat  our subservients as human beings.

  The cruelty and insensitivity  of   the invisibility of the indigent class functions on two  levels: the obvious sadistic kind of exploitation , here represented  by Ashok’s arrogant father(Mahesh Manjrekar) and his uncouth elder brother(Vijay Mourya) who are  nakedly  contemptuous  of Balram’s poverty and powerlessness.

 There is the other far more subtle  form of  exploitation represented by the so-called liberal broadminded  couple played by Rao and Chopra-Jonas .Both  are  fine in their assigned status  in this exceptional adaptation. But it is Adarsh Gourav  who  is the magnificent mainstay of the drama. As   Balram  the narrator, hero,villain and jester  of the plot young Gourav is scarily real, exceptionally in-character  building Balram’s fortunes from the dirt to the skies,in a pyramid that provokes us into questioning the   power structure of a society  thriving on  an inequality that can blow up  in  our faces any time.

  Adarsh Gourav’s Balram is a sociological aberration,in his words the one who has woken up while  the world is asleep,  a square among circles who has his affluent revenge on the moneyed   but  also allows himself the  luxury  of a conscience. In his voiceover Balram admits Ashokdidn’t deserve  the treatment  Balram gave him. But then  if you are going  to make omelettes  eggs have to broken.  The next time you get your underpaid minion to massage  your legs remember it’s your neck he wants to wring.

The White Tiger bursts the myth of the wellbeing of  the master-slave  relationship in our society.It   is  one of the most relevant films in recent times.Apt, opportune and germane to the Indian socio-political reality even though it is  set in 2007, this film is, more than anything, an unconditionally engaging yarn with a central  performance whose  authenticity  will haunt you for as  long  there is   cinema  about social inequality. It was Balraj Sahni and Bimal Roy who set the socialistic ball rolling in Do Bigha Zameen 67 years  ago. Now it is Adarsh and Bahrani’s turn. Except  that the  powerless nowhereman in  The White Tiger won’t take  the  atrocities lying down. There is  blood  on his hand and he isn’t hiding it.

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