Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) narrates his epic and darkly humorous rise from poor villager to successful entrepreneur in modern India. Cunning and ambitious, our young hero jockeys his way into becoming a driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), who have just returned from America. Society has trained Balram to be one thing — a servant — so he makes himself indispensable to his rich masters. But after a night of betrayal, he realizes the corrupt lengths they will go to trap him and save themselves. On the verge of losing everything, Balram rebels against a rigged and unequal system to rise up and become a new kind of master.
Usually, it’s a known fact that January almost always tends to be the worst month for movies in any given year. It’s usually the time of year in which studios love to release horrible horror movies in the hopes that you may forget about them come December, and to their credit, you usually do. But still – nobody looks forward to January movie releases. Sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule (take M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass for instance).
And to be fair, January of 2021 has been fairly rough so far. Not only has there been next to nothing in terms of new releases thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the select few films that have come out so far in 2021 haven’t been the best. But folks – we finally have ourselves a truly excellent film. Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger is an exhilarating, absolutely hilarious, and unrelentingly bleak dive into corruption and the downfalls of ambitiousness.
In some ways, it reminded me of Bong Joon-ho’s Best Picture-winning Parasite in the sense that it tackles similar themes such as social class, the rich versus the lower-class, and politics in general. But make no mistake about it – The White Tiger is a behemoth all on its own merits. Its script is not only the strongest of the year so far by a long shot, but it’s a genuinely engrossing and engaging story about a hopeful entrepreneur who just wants to become wealthy so he can support himself and his family.
Sounds like a fairly simple concept, right? It is, but the beauty of it is in the way it’s executed. The movie does a terrific job at making you feel like you actually know who Balram Halwai is, and by the end of the film, you feel as though you just peered into the life of an actual man living in India with big hopes and dreams. The script has some incredible character development throughout, and so whenever something drastic happens to somebody at a point in the story, you care.
Not only that, but it’s full of clever twists and turns that I did not see coming. Just when you think you have a good understanding of where the story is going, writer/director Ramin Bahrani makes you question everything you just watched. In some movies, this can often be maddening and tedious, but not here. It’s all done to make the story more exciting and yet it still feels scarily plausible.
And it would be a sin to not mention the mesmerizing lead performance from Adarsh Gourav who delivers a sympathetic and heart-poundingly exciting performance in the role of Balram Halwai. Although it’s still extremely early in the year, I hope he gets some recognition at the end of the year for his role here. It’s star-making stuff and it would be a big shame to see his incredible performance get overlooked.
Plus it’s easily one of the funniest movies I have seen in quite some time. The film offers some terrific humor to lighten the tension when things start to get a little bit dark, and while the humor is great and I was consistently laughing, sometimes the tonal shifts felt a bit jarring and unexpected.
Overall though, The White Tiger is sure to have something in store for everybody. It serves as a thrilling look into one man’s life that starts out fairly simple and turns into a rollercoaster ride, and one that is not too much fun for him to ride.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, and sexual material
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: January 22, 2021
Running Time: 128 minutes