Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) has been taught all his life that there's nothing worthier than becoming a servant. But after becoming driver to Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra), who have just returned from living in America, Balram's ambitions turn to rising above his lowly station. He becomes particularly determined to escape the life of servitude and do something more when a car accident one night changes the course of his and his master's life forever...
Based on Aravind Adiga's best-selling and award-winning novel of the same name, 'The White Tiger' expertly integrates an engrossing socio-political commentary about the rich-poor divide in India, in parallel with a thrilling narrative. It conveys Indians norms and traditions with a biting yet subtle sense of humour. There's something of a gangster feel to the plot, while Dominic Cooper starrer 'The Devil's Double' also comes to mind (but forget 'Slumdog Millionaire' - as our protagonist says, "I was trapped, and don't believe for a second there's a million rupees game show you can win to get out of it"). It is a thoroughly compelling watch.
Adarsh Gourav, in his first major feature role, leads with a highly entertaining performance. His Balram is an opportunist through and through, but also bright and hard working. You want him to succeed. Rajkummar Rao is excellent as well, effectively conveying his character's desperation, being torn between family loyalty, and allegiance to his wife. Priyanka Chopra is never less than enrapturing, speaking her mind and projecting a modern femininity that her husband's elders despise. It's no small wonder Ashok is head over heels.
While it can drift in its focus, there are enough story punches to the gut that one can't take their eyes from the screen. From Balram's sad childhood to navigating the tricky space between employee and friend to Ashok and Pinky, it's gleeful to be steered through his journey. As it flashes forward to a totally transformed Balram, with slicked back hair, flashy suits and a thriving business, his transition from poverty to prosperity proves tricksy and cunning. There are few personal ties to hold him back.
Well worth a watch.
'The White Tiger' is streaming on Netflix from 22 January.