Review by Saoirse Mulvihill
The White Tiger (Ramin Bahrani, 2021) is the dark, rags-to-riches story of Balram Halwai (effectively portrayed by Adarsh Gourav) within India’s corrupt democracy and classist caste system, adapted from the novel of the same name. It is an excellent film for anyone who wants to view a faithful representation of Indian culture. Through a high-budget, major-motion picture lens, this film expertly captures exquisite shots of humanity and its scenic backdrop. It is heartening to see this more authentic representation of Indian culture, which has throughout history suffered heavily due to stereotypes, prejudices, and Orientalism.
Unfortunately, that is where the joys of viewing this film end. If you subtract its representational merits as described above, all that remains of The White Tiger is a difficult watch – and not just because it depicts demanding concepts surrounding poverty and class. Upon finishing my first viewing, I was struck by how similar the narrative was to Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019) – only without all of the comic relief, likeable characters, and endearing dynamics between them. This also meant that I spent the entire runtime wishing I was watching Parasite instead, which obviously did no favours to the film I was supposed to be viewing.
I admire the story for its overall concept and cannot deny that the cast deliver impressive performances. Unless you begin a film well-prepared to despise every character, however, the runtime can be extremely challenging. They are not simply ‘well-rounded’; they’re all truly terrible people. The few characters with minor redeeming qualities (I’m looking at you, Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra Jonas)) commit acts so detestable that it remains impossible to hope for a happy ending for any of them – including our narcissistic protagonist. As such, if you’re anything like me, you will have little reason to care about the stakes at hand or the people they affect, leaving you with no reason to continue watching.
Despite my reservations about its characters, I don’t think that this is an irredeemable film. It can’t be overemphasized how beautifully it is shot, and what a breath of fresh air it is to see such an honest insight into the culture and society of India (without any white, male saviours). Those are two feats of which I cannot stress the importance enough but, personally, this only made the rest of the film’s downfall all the more disappointing. If you’re more capable of rooting for ‘anti-heroes without the heroism’ than I am, then I would recommend trying it solely for its progressive steps taken towards unbiased, equal representation. If you prefer to actually like some of the people on your screen, however, I’d give it a miss.