Netflix’s The White Tiger (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: A young man named Belram (Adarsh Gourav), from the Indian underclass, gets a job as a chauffeur for the son of a wealthy, crooked businessman. When he’s asked to assume responsibility for a deadly accident, he plots his escape from the impoverished, hopeless life he’s been doomed to by birth.

REVIEW: The White Tiger is the anti-Slumdog Millionaire. That film even gets gently mocked during the stream of consciousness narration from the anti-hero lead, Belram, who explains that in the real India, there’s no magical tv show he’ll be able to go on to escape his poverty. No, for Belram, who comes from the lower castes in India, all he can hope for is a low-paying service job for a rich family, even if in all likelihood he’ll simply be chucked into the streets when he’s no longer of use to them.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas the white tiger

This gritty, cynical view of Indian society is what makes Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger such a powerful watch. Speaking as a westerner who likes movies, I can say that 90% of my ignorant ideas about the country have been formed by the Bollywood movies I like to watch from time to time. Those films often present a sexy, fun view of a country that likely doesn’t exist for the their poverty-stricken underclass.

It’s a ballsy film for a huge Bollywood star like Priyanka Chopra Jonas to attach herself to, with her producing it as well as taking a supporting role. Both her character, Pinky, and that of her husband, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao – another big Bollywood star) think of themselves as modern people, who initially treat Belram with kindness, but become very comfortable with someone serving their every whim without any agency of his own. In the end, he’s less than nothing to them.

Bahrani, in his American work, such as the amazing 99 Homes, has often been concerned with income disparity in the West and his outsider perspective gives The White Tiger teeth it might have had otherwise. Both Rao and Chopra are exceptional in largely unsympathetic roles, dialing up their megawatt movie star charisma to play people you hope will be better, but simply wind up being cogs in a machine much bigger than themselves.

netflix the white tiger

The difference, of course, between them and Belram is that they benefit from the machine while he has nothing. As good as they are, this is Adarsh Gourav’s movie through and through. Any honest discussion of the best performances of the year ought to include his, as he’s one of the most compelling screen protagonists in awhile. Belram knows he’s playing a rigged game, and initially, he’s ok with playing it, until he’s crossed one too many times. The movie opens with him as a wealthy business-owner in Bangalore, and his climb to the top won’t leave all of the leads alive, but it’s hard not to sympathize with him. Society turns him into a killer, as revealed almost right off the bat, but it’s hard not to put yourself in his shoes, because when everyone is seemingly out to get you it’s every man and woman for themselves.

All of which makes The White Tiger a vital film for Netflix and it’s a shame they haven’t pushed it harder for awards, with it so far excluded from a lot of the prizes being handed out. It’s probably the best movie they’ve put out in the last year, and happily, it’s one of their highest trending movies worldwide, so hopefully, more people make an effort to see it. Bahrani’s made a fast-moving, visceral film, with a propulsive soundtrack and a stylized, polished look that, in some ways, makes the film more of a thriller than a traditional drama. It’s a staggering work.

The White Tiger



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.