‘White Tiger’ is the second Netflix movie starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas in a matter of weeks after she also starred in the Christmas hit ‘Superkids’. Chopra Jonas was also an executive producer, but there is more to the film than star power.
Based on the bestseller by Aravind Adiga, the Booker Prize-winning novel, the story is an attempt to address the class divide that underpins India’s rapid economic evolution. The first scene begins with Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) telling viewers his story of passing from poverty to riches from Bangalore, the technological hub of the country (not much different from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’). His narrative mocks the West. “America is so yesterday, India and China are so tomorrow,” he says.
Despite getting a scholarship to study in New Delhi, Balram, a low caste, turns it down to earn money as a coal worker. However, it is smart in the street sense. He learns to drive and gets a job by lying, claiming that he has been a professional driver for years. Throughout the film, his boss’s family constantly reminds him of his lower caste rank and ridicules him for it.
As Balram says, “In the old days, when India was the richest nation on Earth (before 200 years of British rule), there were a thousand castes, these days there are only two.”
His experiences as a driver and a servant speak volumes about the degree to which he has been exploited, from being beaten to being forced to take responsibility for someone else’s accident. However, with nothing to lose, Balram decides to rebel against the system and plans an assassination: “For the poor, there are only two ways to get to the top: crime or politics.”
Priyanka Chopra’s character Jonas, meanwhile, is on another trajectory. As Pinky, the wife of the master’s youngest son, she identifies with Balram’s struggles to have escaped from her parents’ lifestyle of selling beer and pornography in the United States. While navigating the patriarchal mentality of a Hindu family, she is oppressed simply for being a woman.
Although the script strives to portray class and religious barriers by comparing Balram’s experience with the privileged crowd in the capital, it is uncomfortable to watch the scenes that purport to portray the situation of women. Balram’s fellow drivers introduce him to pornography and talk about women in vulgar language.
Whatever happens, at the end of the film, we still sympathize with Balram, who, though a criminal, is a product of his circumstances and has his eyes firmly set on the future of India.
“White people are dating,” he says. “They will end in the course of our lives; it is the century of the brown and yellow man; God saves the rest.”
‘White Tiger’ is now available on Netflix.