‘The White Tiger’ Depicts a Problematic System that Embraces Dehumanization

Following its arrival in theaters on Jan. 13, The White Tiger was released to Netflix on Jan 22. The film starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Adarsh Gourav is based on the book of the same name written by Aravind Adiga. The shocking story follows Balram (Gourav), a lower caste young man in India who takes a job as a driver and servant for an affluent family. The White Tiger exposes the horrifying treatment of the lower class in India as well as the crime and violent destruction that has resulted from the country’s deeply flawed caste system.

Similar to the 2017 film Molly’s Game or The Wolf of Wall Street, The White Tiger is told from the perspective of the main character looking back on their history and untangling how they got to where they are today. In the opening scene of The White Tiger, Balram is sitting in his glamorous new office telling us that he went from being dirt poor to owning his own company and is now wanted for murder. As any good opening does, this hook has us, the audience, feeling compelled to know how it all went down—and so the cinematic journey begins.

As I mentioned before, the plot is shocking; you won’t be able to predict the events even if you try. The White Tiger is highly immersive and difficult to stop watching once you’ve started. Balram tells us early in his narrations that in India, a servant is not hired without the employer knowing where they live so that the servant is instilled with the fear that their family will be hurt or killed if they disobey their master. While this might seem completely deranged to us, according to the film murder is quite common and deemed an acceptable punishment for misdemeanor crimes.

The White Tiger is set back in the early 2000’s when changes in India were just starting to be made. For the first time ever, there was a leader from the lower caste; she was known as The Great Socialist (Swaroop Sampat). Even with her inspiring story of becoming a leader, there was still so much inequality and mistreatment of good people in the country. As you watch the film, you see many examples of this brutal mistreatment and begin to understand how it has created a culture of violence, crime and apathy.

Something the film does admirably is depict varying levels of humanity and compassion within its characters. For example, The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) believes that servants are not to be treated with respect, but rather to be looked down on. His son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) looks up to him, yet unlike him feels remorse for his actions. Then there is Pinky (Chopra Jonas), Ashok’s American wife, who stands up for Balram when he is being treated unfairly and attempts to make him feel dignified. 

Only several days after the release, the film has already received high praise from both critics and audiences alike—which is hard to do. This universal praise most likely comes from the fact that The White Tiger is a complex story told in a simplistic way that anyone can follow; it easily resonates with anyone who has been treated as less than human or can empathize with that feeling. It also appeals to the curious nature in us all by eloquently luring us in at the very beginning and maintaining a stimulating sense of mystery until the very end. The White Tiger is certainly Netflix’s best film of the year thus far and will most likely land an Oscar nomination.

‘The White Tiger’ is available to stream on Netflix and is now playing in select theaters.

By Blair Krassen

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