After his unforgettable “Eviction” (2014), Ramin Bahrani offers an adaptation of the novel by Aravind Adiga, a sort of distant cousin of “Pouilleux millionaire” and “Parasite”.
Like “The Lousy Millionaire”, “The White Tiger” (literally “The White Tiger”) possesses this typically Indian humor made of an effective mixture of naivety and absurdity. Like “Parasite”, the feature film describes a man’s desire to come out of his condition as a servant of the rich and powerful. But the comparisons end there, “The White Tiger” being a reflection on enslavement, society (Indian in particular and its caste system) and the moral compromises to be made in order to be free.
The first scene leaves no doubts as to what awaits the viewer as Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) sits in the backseat of the car driven by Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas, also producer) under the amused eye of Ashok ( Rajkummar Rao), her husband. It is Balram who will then tell his own story, from his promising but frustrated childhood to his job as a driver for Ashok and Pinky.
By order of his grandmother (Kamlesh Gill), young Balram (Harshit Mahawar) must stop attending school to work and thus contribute to the needs of the family. But our hero cannot silence his ambition, that of getting out of the henhouse, from which the chickens can see that they are heading towards the slaughterhouse, but from which they do not run away. This metaphor, developed over the course of 128 minutes, serves as a common thread in the story of Balram who wants to become the “white tiger” of the title, a mythical animal that only appears once per generation.
Narrated in the form of a letter to the then Chinese Prime Minister, “The White Tiger” takes place between 2007 and 2010, a period when India rose to the rank of resolutely “globalized” nations. The gaze of Balram – and therefore of Aravind Adiga, and by the very fact of Ramin Bahrani, also author of the screenplay, the writer being a friend and a former classmate of the filmmaker – is fierce. “The future belongs to the yellow man and the brown man,” explains the antihero to whom it is impossible not to become attached.
His relations with his “masters” are hard (“Do we hate our masters behind a facade of love or do we love them behind a facade of hate?”), Moral (if we can use this word) of this story then appearing far removed from the spirituality of Gandhi, whose statue appears in the opening and closing scenes of this unmissable feature film.
Rating: 4 out of 5