At the beginning of the picture, a certain car accident is shown: a drunken woman is driving, next to her is her husband, and in the back seat is the hero of the film Balram Halvay (Adarsh Gurav), dressed as some kind of maharaja.
After that, we are shown Balram in a good suit sitting in an office with luxurious furniture. This is Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, 2010. The country is awaiting the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Dzabao, who is going to come to talk with Indian entrepreneurs.
Balram opens a beautiful laptop with an apple on the top and writes a letter to Prime Minister Wen Dzabao. Balram has long followed the success of the Prime Minister’s country. He knows that the Chinese value independence and personal freedom very much. America, Balram writes, is hopelessly outdated. It’s time for the yellows and blacks. Our former owners, white people, writes Balram, are mired in sodomy, cell phones and drugs. I offer you, Mr. Prime Minister, to learn the truth about India for free from my life.
Well, then we are transported to the childhood of Balram, which passed in the impoverished village of Laxmangarh. In the boy’s family, everything was run by grandmother Kusum – an old rogue, as Balram introduced her. The boy’s father worked as a rickshaw, and his grandmother took all the money he earned up to the rupee from him. Grandmother assigned her older brother Balram to a menial job in a village tea house. Balram himself showed brilliant success at school, and the teacher called him the “White Tiger”, the only one, and he was supposed to be sent to study in Delhi, but he failed to continue his studies – grandmother Kusum sent him hunchbacked in a tea shop for a penny.
Periodically, a wealthy landowner and coal baron named Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) comes to the village with his eldest son named Mongoose. A stork like roofing the village and at the same time takes a third of all the earnings of local residents.
When Balram grew up, during the next visit of the Stork, the landowner brought his youngest son Ashok (Rajkumar Rao): he was brought up in America, got married there, and now he and his wife returned to India. Balram, as soon as he saw Ashok, he immediately realized that he should go to Ashok in service – this is his chance to get out of poverty.
Somehow, Balram found out that Ashok was looking for a driver, and then he persuaded Kusum’s grandmother to give him 300 rupees for driving lessons. In return, Balram promised to send all the money he earned to his grandmother.
And Balram still managed to achieve his goal – he got a job as a driver to Ashok.
As the cat Bublik rightly noted, this is a mixture of “Slumdog Millionaire” – an Indian fairy tale, very prudently filmed right under the “Oscar” – and the Korean black-humor tragicomedy “Parasite”, which received four Oscars in 2020, including “Best Film” “.
The script is based on a fairly well-known literary work – the eponymous novel by Aravind Adiga, and this novel won the Booker Prize in 2008.
I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t judge how accurately the spirit of the book was preserved in the picture, but I saw the film, so let’s talk about it.
When Balram is shown at the very beginning of the film sitting in a luxurious office, where he writes a letter to Wen Zabao, in which he mentions the Indian “Silicon Valley”, I was sure that he was the founder of some cool high-tech startup, some Indian Booble. The letter was strange, and in it I was especially shocked by the phrase “white people are mired in sodomy, cell phones and drugs”, but I attributed it to the eccentricity of a young Indian high-tech millionaire, because they are all very peculiar people.
Then they began to talk about the horrors (quite real, I note, not invented) of the Indian caste system, that a person born in a lower caste lives in wild poverty and feels like a chicken sitting in a cage: she has nowhere to go, and the end she always has one – they will kill and eat.
After that, the part “The Kid Goes to Success” went on – about how Balram got a job as a driver for Ashok, successfully eliminated a competitor – an old driver who had worked in the family for twenty years – and about how his relationship with Ashok developed, his beautiful wife Pinky Madam (seriously, that’s her name – Pinky Madam), well, with the whole Stork family. And, of course, we will learn about how Balram managed to break out of an ordinary driver into people.
We will talk about the brilliant life path of Balram under the spoiler at the end of the review – so as not to spoil the impression of those who will watch this film. There were things that surprised me a lot, and it would be interesting to discuss it.
I can only say that the first two-thirds of the picture looked quite interesting. All these people, living in wild poverty and in appalling conditions, evoke lively sympathy and understanding of how unfair it all is: rich people who do not put other people in a penny and shamelessly rob them, while demanding not just respect, but groveling before them, and the poor who see nothing good in their lives.
Also, of course, Balram himself evokes sympathy: an obviously capable and talented boy who is even deprived of the opportunity to get an education and somehow find himself in this life, except to work at the most menial job in a wretched tea shop.
But Balram is a very purposeful guy, and he is determined to get out of poverty at any cost, and this price can be very, very different. And Balram almost immediately demonstrates that he does not care about everyone, even the class close old driver, whom he set up quite meanly. But here, you know, the betel is chopped – drooling is flying! Balram clearly intends to succeed – he will achieve it.
Balram was portrayed by actor Adarsh Gurav. He played well: if the creators of the picture had a goal to show a capable guy who wants to break into people with all his might and at the same time is ready for anything, yes, the actor showed such a guy quite reliably. Given all the gradually opening circumstances, this character did not cause much sympathy, but who said that this was the goal of the filmmakers?
Again, if we were shown how Balram, working hard and honestly working for his master, saved up money for a butter churn, after which he made an impressive career supplying oil to four villages at once, we would hardly like it. And so the development turned out to be somewhat unexpected, not without reason that at the beginning of the discussion I remembered “Parasite”.
Of the other actors, I liked Rajkumar Rao, who played Ashok, the owner of Balram, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who played his wife Pinky. By the way, Priyanka Chopra Jonas is also the executive producer of the film.
Ashok is a weak-willed young man who, unlike his brother Mongoose, has not received proper lessons in the harsh business of Indian realities. He was brought up in America, in greenhouse conditions. Accordingly, Ashok in the family is about the same as Fredo was in the Corleone family: he does not decide anything, but only drags bags with bribes where he is pointed.
The character turned out to be interesting, with all the features of his personality. Ashok is quite kind to Balram, not at all the way an Indian master usually treats his servant, but in any case he will do what his father or elder brother tells him to do.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas turned out very well Pinky Madam: a spectacular woman, brought up in the American spirit, all these Indian troubles were completely not close to her. Well, it was clear that Pinky would not last long in this India, she wanted to go back to America.
What is the result? I watched the first two-thirds of the picture with interest, looked at the last third with some bewilderment, and was completely dejected by the ending. I don’t have any enthusiasm for this film, I remained at a loss from the series “What was it, Holmes?”. But it would be interesting to discuss what we saw with those who watched this film, which we will do below and in the comments.
PS And now about what I saw in this film.
I already wrote about the beginning: the surroundings gave the impression that Balram was the head of some high-tech company. He also indicated in the letter that he was a well-known businessman in Bangalore.
Next comes the story of Balram from childhood, then he becomes the main driver for Ashok, substituting the old driver, well, he works in the family. Ashok and Pinky treat him quite friendly, but Balram still feels that he does not have complete equality with them (and why did he even expect this, I wonder?).
Then the story of how he took it upon himself to blame Pinky for hitting a child while drunk driving, and he was fine and not paid for it. And resentment accumulated in Balram.
Well, in the end, when Balram found out that Ashok would have to transfer four million rupees to a government official, he prepared a broken bottle – “rose”, during the trip he asked Ashok to help him change the wheel and brutally killed his master, slashing his throat with glass so that he bled out. Then he calmly took his bag with four million rupees and dumped.
Balram understood that after this, the Stork would kill his entire family – both his brother and grandmother Kasum, and his mother – only seventeen people. But it was worth it, especially since the sly grandmother Kasum kept demanding money, which he had long stopped sending her, and also tried to marry him. Note that the Stork did exactly what Balram expected from him: he killed everyone, so that Balram, which is characteristic, was not mistaken.
What did Balram use this money for? For a high-tech startup? No, he decided to make a taxi service for the call center. A taxi service was already working there, but Balram brought part of the stolen money to the police and asked the existing service to disperse. After that, he made his own taxi service, in which, as a boss, he normally treats employees, and does not wipe his feet on them, he is such a good fellow, deep respect for him and his entire family cut by Stork.
White people don’t have long, Balram argues. Even in his lifetime, white people would lose everything, such creatures, fascinated by cell phones and sodomy. If the police had caught him, Balram would not have admitted his guilt. It’s cruel to kill your master and steal his money – it was worth it to understand what it’s like not to be a servant.
What usually happens in a typical Indian murder movie, Balram asks his drivers? A poor man kills a rich man, and he is tormented by nightmares. But in life, says Balram, it’s not like that! A real nightmare is if you think that you did not kill your master and remained a servant! But you wake up after this nightmare, and there the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and you remember that everything is in order – you killed this bastard and stole his money! Thank God everything is fine!
During this heartfelt speech, his white-shirted drivers stand behind Balram, traditional Indian music begins, and you understand that the drivers will now begin to dance an energetic dance in honor of the murder of Balram’s owner. But for some reason it doesn’t happen.
And in a letter to the Chinese premier, Balram admits that he took the name Ashok, because he is wanted by the police for the murder and theft of four million. Why Ashok? Yes, because Balram still misses the owner a little. Well, that’s how sentimental he is.
Well, here, in fact, I have a question: what was it all about, Holmesji?
The White Tiger movie review
Director: Ramin Bahrani Cast: Adarsh Ghurav, Rajkumar Rao, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Vedant Sinha, Kamlesh Gill, Sandeep Singh, Tilak Raj, Satish Kumar, Harshit Mahawar, Mahesh Pillai, Mahesh Manjrekar
Drama, India-USA, 2020, 125 min.