“The White Tiger” is a modern tale created to explore and criticise certain aspects of Indian culture, the social inequality and its oppressor system, a subject that I’m as a man who was born in Brazil, a second world country, feel the pain and understand very well. The Indian drama movie was released globally on 2 January 2021 through the streaming platform Netflix and became very popular since then, is an adaptation of Aravind Adiga‘s 2008 novel of the same name, written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, inclusive, “The White Tiger” was nominated for “Best Adapted Screenplay” category for the upcoming Academy Awards.

The film stars Adarsh Gourav in his first leading role, along with Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao were reunited to depicts the story of Balram Halwai. The opening scene reveals the young driver Balram in a car with his master Ashok and master’s wife Pinky, sitting at the seatback, while Pinky is driving the car. She is very drunk and runs over someone. At that point, the story moves forward, more precisely, in 2010, when entrepreneur Balram Halwai emails Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, requesting a meeting, and relating his life story. He states his belief that the Indian underclass is trapped in a perpetual state of servitude, like chickens in a chicken coop.

From that moment on, the narrative unfolds Balram past as a young boy in Laxmangarh, a rural village, who is a member of a low Indian family caste. He wins a scholarship to a school in Delhi because he is an excellent student. His teacher compares him to a “white tiger,” someone born only once in a century. However when his father is unable to pay off village landlord ‘the Stork’, Balram is forced by his grandmother to work in the village’s tea stall, and he never returns to school. Balram’s father dies from tuberculosis, with no doctor to treat him.

A few years later, Balram aspires to become a chauffeur for the Stork’s son Ashok, who has returned from the United States with his wife Pinky. Balram has his grandmother sponsor his driving lessons, with the promise of sharing his chauffeur salary. Balram is hired as the Stork family’s second driver, but is also given menial tasks to complete and is otherwise mistreated. Balram is kept loyal by the threat of him and his entire family being murdered if he were to conduct a betrayal.

Ashok and Pinky make plans to move to Delhi, where Ashok will bribe Indian politicians so that his family would avoid paying tax money. Balram, wanting to drive for them in Delhi, exposes the secret of the family’s primary driver: he is a Muslim. The primary driver is fired by the Stork family due to their prejudice against Muslims. Balram becomes driver number one and joins the couple in Delhi. In contrast to other members of their family, Ashok and Pinky generally treat Balram with respect and eventually become closer to him, though they still view him as a servant.

In Delhi, on Pinky’s birthday, she and Ashok get drunk and force Balram to let Pinky drive, which results in her accidentally hitting and killing a child. The Stork family coerces Balram into signing a confession endorsed by his grandmother. Ultimately, no one is charged, but Balram is left shaken, and he starts being aware he is disposable to the Stork family. 

Later on, Pinky leaves Ashok to return to New York, leaving Balram to emotionally support him. The protagonist realises that loyal service to Ashok was no guarantee of a comfortable life once his services were no longer needed. At this point, Balram dramatic arc gets changed. He begins to defraud Ashok with fake invoices while making money on the side by selling the car’s petrol and using the car as an unlicensed taxi.

Balram encounters a series of setbacks, for example, he angers the Stork family when he donates change to a beggar, Balram’s grandmother unexpectedly sends one of his younger nephews to live with him and also learns that his grandmother is following through with her plans to get him married against his wishes. Meanwhile, Ashok prepares to pay a particularly large bribe, while also arranging to imminently replace Balram with a new driver. Balram has an epiphany on how to escape servitude as the “white tiger”. 

The film comes up with a reflection of the Indian cultural, political and social failed system opening the discussion with the question: “What is a servant without a master?”. That is the typical thought in Indians popular imagination according to the movie. The lower castes are raised to serve unconditionally, manipulated by upper castes under the cultural philosophy, religion and tradition, to keep their privileges and exploit most of the population who live in total poverty, in a destructive social inequality.  

During Balram’s classic hero journey, we watched him becomes aware of the importance of contesting and disrupting the status quo to be free to conquer his freedom and dignity, although, eventually, he needs to use illegal means to gain it, because there’s no other way to escape from that terrible fate of living in darkness. To obtain his freedom, Balram needs to murder his master Ashok and steals the bribe money. That was the only possible way to change his sad life scenario.  

So, Balram flees the city with his nephew and the money. An arrest warrant is put out for Balram but he evades capture. Balram takes his nephew with him to Bangalore, then a bubble for large IT companies. He uses a portion of the stolen cash to bribe the police to eliminate taxi service providers for a lack of licenses. Balram starts his own taxi company, thus becoming wealthy himself. He treats his drivers as employees and not as servants. 

Photos credit: Netflix

The film features gorgeous cinematography very well executed by Ramin Bahrani, introducing many Indian locations, cultural aspects and aesthetic that I have never seen before in movies. The screenplay is a bittersweet contemporary tale about Indian social inequality, full of surprising plot twists, casually dazzling dialogue and a postmodern hero’s journey. Also, the cast is spectacular, especially Adarsh Gourav who made his debut on the cinema screen as Balram marvellously.

The White Tiger moral of the story answered Balram question above: “How would be the world if people became aware of the happiness to escape servitude?” It’s worth watching!