The White Tiger: Netflix Film Review

The White Tiger

The White Tiger might not be as star-studded as some of Netflix’s 2021 original film slate – a new film every week this year, guys! – but I urge you to check it out as you will not be disappointed.

The Indian drama tells the story of Balram (Adarsh Gourav) and charts his rise from poor villager to successful entrepreneur. He begins his working life as a driver and servant for businessman Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) and comes to think of them as family, but after one night of betrayal reveals they don’t reciprocate that feeling, Balram comes up with a plan to break free from his low caste and become his own master.

I knew I was going to like The White Tiger immediately when it opened with Panjabi MC’s classic ’90s track Mundian To Bach Ke (a real shot of nostalgia) playing in the background of the pivotal moment. We don’t see it fully play out though, as Balram’s narration comes in and he gives us a look at his new businessman life before flashing back to his childhood – thankfully, it moves almost chronologically from there. The narration is fun and endearing in the beginning and becomes gradually more dark and less comic as it goes on. It can be quite meta at times; Balram knows he’s telling his life story for a film and even breaks the fourth wall to almost give a knowing wink to the camera.

Like Parasite and Ready or Not (those are the first ones that spring to mind), The White Tiger falls neatly into the “eat the rich” subgenre of movies, in which poor people take on the rich. This film depicts Balram’s struggle to rise above his servant station, break free from his class/caste and escape “the coop”. When he first lands his job, he is thrilled to work for such a wealthy and well-respected family but the shine soon wears off when he is treated like a piece of dirt by the family, and the love he feels for them becomes mixed with hate, jealousy, and resentment, particularly after the pivotal betrayal shows how little they think of him. Although you shouldn’t really condone his actions (no spoilers here), you can understand why he did it and can’t help but feel like saying “good for you”.

Gourav does a fantastic job in his first lead role; playing Balram in two very different periods of his life. In the flashbacks, we see him go from being a naive upbeat and grateful young man to one simmering with internal rage, while in the businessman scenes, he is more mature, quiet, and contemplative. There is one scene in which his performance floored me – his acting is super subtle but you can tell how much he is emotionally hurt by looking at his eyes and unconvincing smile.

Chopra plays the only decent human being within the rich family. An Indian woman raised in America, she challenges how things are done, defends Balram, and offers him guidance. Chopra gave Pinky a warm air, a big heart, and a no-nonsense attitude.

The White Tiger walks the fine line between dark humour and serious drama and succeeds in being a compelling character study, with top performances and an awesome soundtrack to boot.

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 22nd January

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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