The White Tiger is a 2021 adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Arvind Adiga, of the same name, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. The film has been directed and adapted for the screen by Ramin Bahrani. Adarsh Gourav plays the protagonist, Balram Halvai while Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra play Ashok and Pinky Madam respectively. Priyanka Chopra is also the executive producer of the film.
The White Tiger is a satire on the existing class system in countries, especially India. It raises a question on the traditions and sensibilities of both, the elites and the impoverished. It asks a very simple question: “Why is it so?” And we just don’t seem to find a plausible explanation for the same. If you look at it closely there is no logic to this very system. Why would somebody keep living such a menial life? What accounts for the loyalty of these servants to their masters. What do they get in return? Is there any escape? Can they ever exit this cycle?
It is absurdity at its best.
A Rooster Coop
Balram lives in a joint family with his brother running a tea shop while his father works laboriously to make ends meet. The head of the family is his grandmother who demands that every penny should be kept in her hands. The family is trained to serve the masters. The higher the level of the master in the food chain, the more successful the servant believes himself to be.
Balram’s father dies of Tuberculosis and he is forced to leave school and help his brother in the tea stall. Balram often feels that one should choose their masters with utmost care. He spots his Stork, a local businessman (Mahesh Manjeraker) and he decides that he will work as a driver for his son, Ashok. Balram uses his shrewdness to get a job as driver number two. With time he succeeds to become driver number one. Balram says that nothing can be more disheartening for a servant to be second in command. All the perks are reserved for the primary slave. He considers it a mini victory when he achieves that feat.
He drives his master to Delhi and finally fulfills his long-lasting desire to serve Ashok and his wife Pinky. Though Ashok is also a part of this family who thinks that a servant should be treated in a particular manner but he had lived abroad and has a more global perspective of looking at things. Like his family, he doesn’t feel that courtesies and manners should be limited to only a particular class of people. Pinky too is ousted at times by the way Ashok’s father and brother treat Balram.
But then on a fateful evening, everything changes. After celebrating Pinky’s birthday the couple is going back home when Pinky, a little inebriated, says that she will drive.
The high spirits, the exuberance, and the cheerful vibe suffer a sudden shock when Pinky hits something on her way. This event changes the destinies of many involved directly and indirectly and finally the rooster escapes the coop.
World’s Largest Democracy
Balram often questions that what accounts for this undying loyalty of the servants. What binds the rooster in the coop even when ultimately each and everyone has to be slaughtered. Their fate is already written as soon as they are born in such a family. The hierarchy is already decided and no matter what they do they can’t climb up in the food chain.
It’s an intricately built cycle. Even if the rooster escapes it doesn’t have anywhere to go. Sooner or lately his past will catch him once again. Only if one could spit their past so easily.
Balram asks himself that why his family didn’t teach him manners and etiquette. Why are they only meant for the people who enjoy the economic aristocracy? How can a paper with numbers written on it determine so much in our civil society? When Balram sees his father lying on the pyre he realizes that the man was resisting his fate in his death also. According to him the only two professions which can help you escape your fate are politics and crime and he chooses one of them. On being asked that what is the difference between a poor and rich man, Balram says “rich have a lot of opportunities that they can waste.”
The narrative puts light upon the plight of a common man in a free democracy. It says that never be a poor man in a democracy.
Through Pinky’s character when we view this class battle in a global hue, we realize how erratic these customs and practices have been. Like not making the worker sit on a chair, or not making him est with you, and even when you do you make sure that the person knows how magnanimous and noble you have been in your approach by imparting the worker this favor. The film questions that why is it a “favor” for a mortal to treat anybody like it is meant to be, in a humane way.
The problem is so deep-rooted that many times people do not even realize what they are doing. Maybe because it going on for ages. This behavior has become normalized. Unless and until somebody from a totally different culture or having a unique set of ideologies makes you realize, you won’t be able to find a fault in the behavioral pattern.
We see it around us all the time. In Indian houses especially we don’t let the “servants” use the toilets of our houses, we don’t make them sit with us, we don’t use the same ingredients at times when making food for them, we separate their utensils, we take them to restaurants to babysit and often never offer the food which we are eating. Our tone of speaking, our mannerisms, our etiquettes changes according to the financial capability of a person.
But we have been brainwashed well enough to overlook these things and categorize it as being normal. The White Tiger questions this NORMAL of ours.
Credit has to be given to Paolo Carnera for some exceptionally well-cinematographed scenes. Adarsh Gourav as Balram is in good form and doesn’t miss a beat. The White Tiger lags in emotionally seeping through, as is expected from a film made on such a strong issue and based on such a path-breaking novel. It is strong in casting the dark shades of humor but somewhere it doesn’t invoke or trigger the emotions inside you. You don’t feel for Balram, you do not invest yourself enough to understand the functioning of the rooster coop, and henceforth a change that should have been inevitable loses its effectiveness. Entertainment takes the front seat making us forget the cause that the film is addressing.
Streaming on Netflix, The White Tiger is a must watch because its time somebody showed us the mirror.
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