It’s true that we Indians have a pretty stereotypical idea of the West, but the west too is also guilty of this crime. In the first scene in The White Tiger, we see Pinki (Priyanka Chopra) and Ashok (Rajkumar Rao) drunk driving while their driver (Adarsh Gourav) sits in the back. They pass a vehicle going the wrong way, a cow on the street, a poor family sleeping near the said streets, and a Gandhi statue. It’s like the director was insistent on ticking off boxes from his ‘Stereotypical India’ checklist.
Based on Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker Prize-winning eponymous novel, The White Tiger does try to bring out the nuances of the Indian society and the age-old discrimination that puts people in hen coops (the author’s words), who are so used to being subservient that they don’t stop and think that they have a choice. Mostly because they don’t. But all it manages to do is skim the surface of the underbelly of caste and poverty in India, and the westernization of the film stings.
Balram (Adarsh Gourav) is on the lowest end of poverty – dead father, a greedy grandmother who takes every penny everyone makes, the stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) who sucks all the remaining money – and has no means of getting out. His one chance comes in the form of Ashok (Rajkumar Rao), the stork’s youngest son. Balram gets a job as his and his wife’s driver, and finally gets out of poverty and oppression. Or so he thinks. Delhi, unfortunately, brings out another kind of oppression, where the elite live in shiny houses and the servants are in the underworld, with mosquitoes and cockroaches for company.
Ashok and Pinky are perfectly portrayed as the NRI couple who have learned all about caste and poverty, yet look upon it from their detached gaze and try a measly one or two attempts to get Balram out of it. Then there is Balram, who gets where he is (running a business in Bangalore), by sketchy means – manipulating Ashok into giving him a job, getting the senior driver fired, trying to take care of Ashok like a wife – his servitude and cunningness are always at odds with each other.
Adarsh Gourav is the best thing to come out of the film, and his hard work shows. Priyanka Chopra adds a nice touch to Pinky, but Rajkumar Rao’s fake accent is clearly the crutch in the film. The film is also shot in English, which means the film loses the point that it’s trying to convey, which would have come across better if the drivers weren’t speaking English when they clearly didn’t have to.
Image via: Empire