Money makes this poor boy’s world go round.
I’m quite fascinated with stories set in India, like “Slumdog Millionaire” or “Life of Pi” or “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and I was easily excited to see “The White Tiger.” This one feels like something Martin Scorsese was involved with, because of its main protagonist’s views of the money game and how he fights his way to the top. He must take crap from his employers, he must earn their trust, he must lie his way into things, and he never lets go.
Scorsese had nothing to do with this. Instead, that would be writer/director Ramin Bahrani, whose credits include “Man Push Cart,” “At Any Price,” and “99 Homes.” He adapts Aravid Adiga’s book with style and commitment, and even casts Adarah Gourav in the lead role. I’ve never heard of this actor, I didn’t recognize his name in the credits for face on the screen, but once I saw the whole movie, I now know who he is. He explodes off the screen with a charismatic attitude, and allows the audience to connect with him, and see his character’s environments.
It tells the story of Balram Halwai (Gourav), a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, who is preparing for the arrival of the Chinese Premier (Aaron Wan), while being wanted by the police. How did he get to the top and why is he in trouble with the law? He talks to the audience about his humble beginnings.
As a child, he comes from a poor village, lost his father to tuberculosis, and had to drop out of school to work breaking coal. And when he gets older, he learns to drive so he can be the chauffeur for his village’s landlord and his son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), both of whom have just returned from America. He starts off as a servant, and then he takes the top driver’s spot to drive Ashok and his chiropractor wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas) to Delhi.
They manage to connect with him and things are riding smoothly, until one night when a drunken Pinky runs over a child. Their hit & run incident basically becomes the turning point for Balram, Ashok, and Pinky. The supporting work from Rao and Chopra-Jonas are equally as electrifying as the lead, because of how they ease you into their characters, and how they’re both drawn with complexity.
Balram has changed during his experiences, as he regrets living in poverty, and becomes more cunning and ambitious in the business world. For one thing, he stopped giving his grandmother (Kamlesh Gill) the money he promised to provide in exchange for her paying for his driving course. And for another thing, he’s willing to go to great lengths to make sure he gets to the top.
I didn’t understand everything going on in “The White Tiger,” but I was still fascinated by its ambitions and deceptions. Money can change people for the right or wrong reasons, depending on how they make their directions in life. In Balram’s case, he tries to better himself by breaking some rules and stepping up his game. Yes, he makes some drastic decisions, but he still manages to overcome them. I just love Gourav in this particular role.
The movie, itself, is smart and entertaining, and in a way, it keeps you at the edge of your seat. You wonder what makes the main protagonist a wanted man, and as you keep watching it, you become more and more interested. This isn’t a movie that just goes for the gold and relies on the obligatory American movie cliches. It delivers by taking risks and taking us to various places. If you’re on your computer or TV (on Netflix this Friday), or if you choose to see it in theaters, sit back and enjoy the show.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming on Netflix This Friday