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MOVIES: The White Tiger - Review

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Rags to riches stories are tales that we’ve all seen told countless of times before, and to its credit, The White Tiger offers a chance to diverge from the normal formula in favour of an ‘eat the rich’ approach that movies like Parasite and Hustlers have been praised for in the past. The same broad themes are at play in The White Tiger, even if employed a bit too safely, in a film that within a flashback/flashforward structure, tells a story of two halves that are punctuated by a clear divergence in tone once the film catches up to its opening flashforward. The plot of The White Tiger may sound typical on the surface as it looks at the rise of entrepreneur Balram Halwai, played by Adarash Gourav, as we watch his ambition take him from his humble beginnings as a driver for a rich family right to the very top of the barrel, but what’s appreciated is its darkly satirical bent that makes it immediately self-aware of everything that is happening - its cynical edge is unmatched with a firecraker of an attitude that has plenty of style and substance.

The ensemble here within the heart of The White Tiger is one of its biggest strengths – Rajkummar Rao is incredible, whilst Priyanka Chopra’s character offers a sense of morality in the murky underworld, where politicians are bribed for elections and seemingly nobody is safe from their corruption: at one point, Halwai even asks the audience whether the same thing happens in their country. Unfortunately, to a degree, it probably does. But this is a Halwai at that point in the film who is so far removed from where he is at the start he almost feels like a different character entirely: Halwai starts off as someone who brings to the table a degree of innocence that his employers, or as he calls them, his masters, are quick to take advantage of and abuse for their own gains – and we see his growing disillusionment take root in a way structured around plenty of metaphors – the comparison to a chicken coop is one of the film’s less subtle allegories that help drive its point home - but then subtlety was never really the aim of the game for The White Tiger, which goes unashamedly large-scale in its unmatched confidence and bravado that it brings to the table.

Every choice by Bahrani feels self-aware, alive and well-thought out with no expense spared. The White Tiger is not above taking shots at Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire for example as it warns the audience the ‘real world’ is very much different to the fantasy that that film sells us. Halwai reflects on the journey that made him the man who he was today over the course of his runtime as we see his character reach a tipping point in a character study that works wonders, as by the time you come out of the film, you’ll know exactly what makes him tick, why he has done what he has done and more importantly, what pushed him to the breaking point to make that decision. He warns audiences not to judge him until he’s told the whole story, and you can see why – it takes the characters to pretty dark places. It’s to Gourav’s credit that his character, even when delivering the most one-dimensional dialogue, always gives that much needed two-dimensional focus to what makes him tick, as there’s an insight to him that makes it clear there’s more going on in his character’s mind than what he’s letting on. With one look, he can tell you everything without uttering a single word.

The melodrama here feels entirely deliberate and never overstated. The social commentary at play in The White Tiger has been commonplace throughout most of Ramin Bahraini’s films in the past, after all – he did handle the Fahrenheit 451 adaption for HBO with Michael B. Jordan, and the brilliant 99 Holmes, released in 2014 and starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, making him a director to instantly keep an eye out for, no matter the project but The White Tiger adopts this approach at his most refined and broadly accessible yet on a scale that deserves to be seen by the widest audience possible, genre-bending in a way to always keep the audience on their toes as he brings a narcissistic approach to the table that although perhaps overstays its welcome by about twenty to thirty minutes with its pacing not entirely being perfect, never becomes a major issue.

The White Tiger is currently streaming on Netflix now.

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