moview Review: The White Tiger

Photo by Pixabay on

Ricardo Gonzalez ’21

Don’t watch another movie until you see Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger on Netflix.

The White Tiger follows protagonist Balram Halwai, who narrates his life story as part of a letter written to former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is visiting India. Balram is a self-claimed entrepreneur with high ambitions, despite his life as a coal-smasher and tea shop worker under his tyrannical grandmother. His father died of tuberculosis, and his brother is forced into an arranged marriage. After overhearing that the village’s presidential landlord, the Stork, is looking for a second driver for his cool “Americanized” son Ashok, Balram seizes the opportunity with high hopes of escaping his low-caste life. 

There is no shortage of dusting, rug cleaning, and floor-sleeping on Balram’s new path. He is eager to please the Stork, giving frequent oil massages and requesting lower pay. His culture perpetuates an idea of complete fealty to the master, as Balram states: “The trustworthiness of servants is so strong that you can put the key of emancipation in a man’s hand and he will throw it back at you with a curse.” What follows is a winding path of shame and triumph. Balram does not hesitate for a second when presented with a series of morally questionable choices, as long the product is power.

The movie excels in accentuating the immoralities of a wicked climb from squalor to prosperity. It all starts when his competition, the primary driver, gets a bonus to drive Ashok to Delhi for business. Balram’s distaste for the superior driver leads him to expose the man’s deepest secret: his religion. Balram uses the Stork’s hate for Muslims against his rival colleague by exposing his secret, ultimately causing him to be tossed back to the streets. But as Balram’s responsibilities increase, so does his thirst for independence. 

When Balram is finally left alone with his true master Ashok and his wife Pinki, Balram’s servitude plummets. Ashok is what Balram describes as a “‘lamb,”’ or an Indian corrupted by western ideals, ultimately weakening his dominance. After a surprising turn of events, Balram is held responsible for a crime he didn’t commit. This is the last straw, as Balram breaks the shackles of servitude to finally manifest his desires to become a as a successful business owner.

What separates the White Tiger from other movies is Balram’s gripping tug-of-war between his ambitions and India’s caste system. We see him go from a humble servant to a cut-throat businessman. Balram’s gradual, slimy ascension coupled with caliginous cinematography and stellar acting makes for an excellent cinematic experience.