'The White Tiger' is another film which follows the 'Slumdog Millionaire' formula, with poor results


By Meghana Krishnamurthy, Second Year, Film & Television

Just how much of a western audience does this film target?

Just like the film says, the White Tiger is such a rare species that it is born only once in a generation. The same could be said for the book of the same name by Aravind Adiga, from which the film has been adapted. The winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the book uniquely tells a rags-to-riches story, which could be considered a once in a generation idea. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the film.

Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, and Adarsh Gourav in The White Tiger (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb

The film follows the story of a poor man, Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), who starts working as a driver for a wealthy family and tells the tale of how he outsmarts them to become a successful businessman himself. The film is helmed by prominent actors Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Rajkummar Rao, with Western audiences being more familiar with the former than the latter. And although she is perfectly cast as Pinky, the wife of Balram’s ‘master’ Ashok (Rao), the decision might have been a bit more of a star endorsement than it seems, for her screen time only reaches the first half of the film, and yet, she features heavily in all the promotional material.

And speaking of Western audiences; the narrative is told through Balram’s perspective, his voice guiding the chain of events as narration. However, it is jarring, as it draws the audience’s attention away from the immersive world that has been created within the small village that Balram comes from; the atmosphere of Dhanbad, and, the toxic luxury of Delhi. The viewer isn’t given enough time to absorb each location before the story shifts to a different setting to tell the next act of the plot.

Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra | Courtesy of IMDb

What makes it worse is that the entirety of the narration is in strangely accented English, rendering some lines, which should have had a deep impact, cringey and out of place. The lack of spoken Hindi is problematic too. Although, it is understandable that director Ramin Bahrani has used English to showcase the barrier between and rich and the poor; which is basically the reality in society; the stiff English is badly written, not allowing the natural flow of dialogue.

However, this is made up for by the wonderful adaptation that Bahrani has managed to write. It is tightly written, even if the story starts to get away towards the last act. There are several characters who are impressively fleshed out, such as Balram’s ungrateful grandmother and the badly named ‘Mongoose,’ with his uncomfortable plethora of English cuss words.

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The book is written by an Indian author, in a truly Indian setting, with all Indian actors, only to be directed and produced by Americans. It is the true example of a film following the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ philosophy. At least Danny Boyle doesn’t make an appearance.

Featured: IMDb

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