Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Vedant Sinha, Kamlesh Gill, Sandeep Singh, Tilak Raj, Satish Kumar, Harshit Mahawar, Mahesh, Pillai, Rajinder Singh Pancharia, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vijay Maurya, Sanket Shanware
Written by: Ramin Bahrani, based on a novel by Aravind Adiga
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and sexual material
Running Time: 125
Date: 01/22/2021

The White Tiger (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Rupees in Paradise

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ramin Bahrani's The White Tiger is an exciting, yet deeply cynical movie, one that can leave you feeling rather depressed, or even nauseous. Like Bahrani's 99 Homes, this one deals with the corrupting influence of wealth, and how some will step on anyone's neck to get it. Balram (Adarsh Gourav) is a poor Indian man with a huge, rural family. Tired of being hungry, he becomes determined to pull himself up through the ranks. He talks his way into becoming a driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), the American-educated son of a wealthy, powerful family. He continues to struggle on his low wages, and living in a dank, basement room, until Ashok's girlfriend Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) drives drunk and runs over someone in the street. The family asks Ashok to sign a confession for the crime, and he agrees, but it unlocks a new rage in him. He makes a very, very dark decision to change his fate.

Like Stone's Wall Street movies and Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, The White Tiger seems to enjoy the gluttonous desire for excess, and becomes intoxicated on it. (It even includes a stab at its more optimistic Oscar-winning cousin Slumdog Millionaire.) It includes several of those little cutaways in which Balram imagines doing something that he's not actually doing; a cut reveals the trick at the end. But whereas its American counterparts walked a fairly clear moral line, this one remains rather gray. Ashok is not all bad (he comes to Balram's defense a few times), and Balram is frequently pretty evil. And the movie ends with such a dark look at the economics of the world — with no real comeuppance or moral — that it's like having your wallet stolen. In essence, the only way to get ahead in the world (America included) is to cheat. Everything, even a supposedly benevolent leader called "The Great Socialist," is corrupt. It's easy to wonder just what Bahrani was thinking here, and yet it's hard to dismiss such a smart, vibrant movie.

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