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The White Tiger : A grimly compelling drama

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

“A dark and dismal morality tale of needless strife and wasted ambition” the critics of cinema and literature unanimously agrees that White Tiger is worth the hypes. If the film made you uncomfortable, that’s the whole point, the director did his job well. Aravind Adiga along with other eminent writers such as Mulk Raj Anand, Salman Rushdie, Sukumar Ray have contributed towards the portrayal of deep-rooted socio-economic divide which was rampant in India. The main goal of realism was to present life as it truly---to portray real, typical people, their problems and situations as accurately and truthfully as it can be—much alike the Italian neorealism anchored by Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellin. Not just this divide, but India was also witnessing polarity in human rights as well. The rich were deciding the fate of poor, who tormented and exploited their power for the fracas and anxieties they inflicted on the downtrodden. White Tiger doesn’t refrain itself from bringing to light these disputes. It takes a journey through the menace of classism, casteism, socialism, and many of other issues in India that plague the working class and those who came from life of poverty in a “rags-to-riches”-esque tale. Balram, the protagonist once asks, “Am I not a human being too?” sickened by the system thereby becoming a mouthpiece of the disheveled society.

There are only two kinds of people, the ones with small and ones with large bellies; says Balram Hawal who fell as a victim to the dark side of Indian reality. The award-winning novel, White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is phenomenal in exposing the grim truths of an Indian youth, who through his attempts thrived to be a young entrepreneur in Bangalore. Balram is an extended metaphor for all the striving teenagers who are crumbled by the tentacles of poverty and unemployment. Adiga starts the story from the context of Chinese President His Excellency Wen Jiabao’s visit to India. He mails him the shacky and untended concerns of the country by reminding that there is no need to spend money on American books like ‘Ten secrets of Business Success’. There are more significant matters to be looked at. Before becoming a successful entrepreneur, Balram lived his initial years in darkness working in a tea shop in Dhanbad, whose father was taken away by fate in form of tuberculosis. He somehow managed to get into the house of their landlord as a driver thereby creating a major U-turn in the course of the story.

Adiga expounds the lives of people as a ‘rooster-coop’ when they are compelled to continue the family occupation, just like a rooster ready to be killed, they know they will die one day but are not attempting to escape from it. They are imprisoned in that darkness because they are not unprincipled but because of their ignorance. The villages of India are permeated with lives dying with poor health, incapability and chronic illnesses which altogether engulfed viability of the masses. Adiga broaches Balram as a ‘White Tiger’, a trope which stands for fearlessness and clairvoyance inside him which he will unentangle later. I happened to watch the Netflix version of White Tiger directed by Ramin Baharani in whose skills played a job to give life to the characters by sticking forthright to the novel. Adarsh ignited his career best performance as Balram. Raj Kumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas have also stood shoulder to shoulder with best appearances. With an unapologetic criticism of the economic and political constructs of the democracy, Adiga paints the lives of the characters with the brush of satire and humor. Balram wins the race through albeit means but it gives no room for the audience to dislike his intentions since that is already justified by the abyss of helplessness. In a country like India where richer are always rich and poorer always poor, Balram is truly a gamechanger through this inspiring, nerve racking coming of age story.

The film also ponders over the non-biodegradable issue of caste and religion in India. Balram’s co-worker lose his job once he made it clear that he is a Muslim. The workers in the rich households are sorted not just by looking at their skills but their origins as well. He compares workers to that of lord Hanuman since he is considered as an epitome of faithful servant to the master. They are ready to give up their life for their masters even without proper remuneration, leaving them incapable of protecting their family. This vicious cycle of caste and the economic condition pulls down the poor to the pit of utter disappointment and hopelessness. The dichotomy is subtle once we happened to see Ashok donating a hundred rupees while Balram is giving just a rupee coin at the temple. When Ashok says that they bribed to the government officials and he feels guilty while passing by Gandhi’s statue, the corruption exercised by the upper class is apparent. Film also arises the gender disparity when Pinky (Priyanka) starts speaking in front of elders. He tells Ashok to control his wife just like how they do in the village. Likewise, he tried to paint the dismal state of affairs in India through his uncompromising work.

White tiger is gazing fearlessly into the typical Indian lives, zooming to the aristocrats who manipulate the power and money they own. On other side, it inclined towards the injustices meted out to the people by keep on putting reminders of the dreadful underpinnings and dilapidated conditions of the social and cultural milieu. Hence, Arvind Adiga reached the zenith as a realist writer who represented human behavior in a veracious yet interesting and memorable manner which appealed to the interests and instincts of the masses. It is acquiescent to ideas, to motives of sentimental and principle and these motives could be multi-faceted and takes different shapes when applied in the prevailing social contexts. White Tiger is thus a finest classic hovering around the war amongst objectives vs. obstacles, haves vs. have-nots, type casts vs. errant by twisting our heads in the direction forcing us to face the actuality. Undoubtedly a “classic page turner”.

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