The APAHM Project Day 5: The White Tiger
Film: The White Tiger
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Release Date: 2021
Where to Watch: Netflix
Why It Made the List:
Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2021, “The White Tiger” breaks stereotypes of Indian people. This film has also been on my watch list (and the potential APAHM Project line up list) since its release and in an effort to cover as many Asian stories as possible in a single week, I finally decided to give this a watch.
“The White Tiger” begins with Balram in the future, writing about how he turned himself into a self-made entrepreneur. We follow Balram, a young man living in Laxmangarh. As a boy, he excelled in school but because of his father’s declining health, he is forced to leave school and instead help in his family business. The landlord of the village arrives in a nice car, a stark contrast to the village’s lack of modern amenities. Balram’s family struggles to pay the landlord.
After Balram’s father passes away and Balram grows up, the landlord brings his younger son, Ashok to the village. Balram as his sight set on becoming Ashok’s driver and borrows money from his grandmother to take driving lessons. Balram soon gets his dream job and leaves his village to become Ashok and his wife, Pinky’s, servant and driver.
The film progresses as we uncover that Ashok and Pinky are meeting with important government officials with a handsome bribe in order to avoid paying taxes at their family coal business. We see the upper-class from Balram’s eyes. And through Balram, we see the Indian caste system. Balram compares the servants to being a chicken in a coop. You know you are the next on the chopping block, but you remain in the coop all the same. Pinky even mentions to Balram how she frowns at the caste system and even claimed that she was almost not able to marry Ashok because of her own status.
Balram seems to be getting along well with his bosses and being their driver, but things take a dark turn when Pinky insists on driving home drunk. Pinky hits and kills a child with the car and they flee the scene. When the landlord comes to visit, he is unusually nice to Balram. Of course, he asks Balram to take the blame for Pinky’s accident. Balram reluctantly agrees and asks for nothing in return. Again, Balram is the chicken in the coop.
One night, Pinky has Balram drive her to the airport discretely and leaves her husband. Balram and Ashok have a hot and cold relationship, but Balram does his best to comfort his boss. Once Balram sees how much money Ashok and Pinky have been offering up as the bribe, he begins to formulate a plan.
After a gruesome fight, Balram kills Ashok and takes the money. He thinks about running immediately, but he instead goes back to their Delhi residence where his nephew is waiting. The two flee and Balram changes his name and opens White Tiger Drivers, where the drivers are paid well and treated like employees instead of servants. Balram’s nephew has learned a thing or two in the process, how to hustle to get what he wants. Balram has finally left the chicken coop and left the door open.
Through Balram, we see the Indian caste system but also how one man’s desperation for a better life can lead to extreme consequences.
“The White Tiger,” while a little slow to begin, keeps you engaged until the very end. I kept wondering how far Balram was willing to go and thinking he surely wouldn’t go that far. The cast was all incredible in their craft, terrific acting all around. While the film was darker than I anticipated, I enjoyed it overall and am glad that I finally got around to watching it.
Small Business Shout Out:
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