The White Tiger – Review

Worth seeing: as a glimpse into India's highly divided society as a low caste villager uses the criminal underworld to climb society's ladder
Director:Ramin Bahrani
Featuring:Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Harshit Mahawar, Kamlesh Gill, Sandeep Singh, Sanket Shanware, Swaroop Sampat, Vijay Maurya
Length:128 minutes
Country:India, US
Released:22nd January 2021


The future is looking very different. After generations of the white man colonising the world, India and China are growing in global prominence.

Balram (Adarsh Gourav) is a young entrepreneur in Bangalore, seeking to set up partnerships with Chinese companies, to end his country’s reliance on the Western world.

Big ambitions for someone who started out making sweets in a remote village.

Despite being able to read well enough to go so school, family circumstances meant he missed out on a scholarship, but his dogged determination to break free from the destiny fate had thrown at him helped him get a job as a driver for the local crime family that owned his village.

But the path from driving gangsters to running your own business empire is a long and dangerous one.


A glimpse into India’s class struggle, criminal underworld and political corruption, Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s novel is weighty and ambitious.

The dialogue is split between Hindi and English – the former is used largely when lower classes are talking to each other, the latter when higher castes are involved in the conversations – illustrative of the historical divide that Balram is trying to help the country escape from.

This a morally ambiguous rags to riches tale that leaves you rooting for the protagonist as he strives to make a better life for himself – but being a little less accepting of the way his own selfishness clouds any loyalty he might have – either to his own family back home or those members of the crime family who actually treat him with respect. While there are some gangsters who deserve whatever might be thrown their way, you feel that those who treat him the best get punished for letting their guard down – the lesson for gangsters is to keep your servants in their place.

It’s fascinating and uplifting – but almost a little disappointing and frightening – to watch him grow – from the low caste servant who’s instinct is to accept abuse from the bosses to someone with the confidence to use his position to his own advantage. It’s difficult to know whether to respect and admire him – or fear him. The caterpillar emerges from the cocoon as a monster.

It’s perhaps a sign that such ruthlessness is a necessary evil to escape from India’s caste system but unlike most coming-of-age, fighting-for-justice-type films, The White Tiger doesn’t offer the kind of example any of the film’s millions of global viewers should be encouraged to follow.

Noting that he seems to be more frightened of his grandmother – the matriarch of his home village – than he is of the head of the crime gang, you perhaps get a sense that Balram’s fighting spirit is in his genes.

Interestingly, with the film told in flashback, you know from the start that he’ll escape and make something of himself – but it’s similarly interesting to note that he seems to oversee his own workers with the same kind of heavy hand as those who’d employed him; perhaps rather than looking forward to a future without white people, he should be looking behind him.