The White Tiger

Jan 11, 2021

A companion piece to Slumdog and an energetic deconstruction of India's rigid caste system.

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga was allegedly influenced by Balzac and Dickens when writing the book, The White Tiger. Fair enough because writer-director Ramin Bahrani has adapted the novel into a modern take on social Darwinism in India whereby poor driver Balram (Adarsh Gourav) rises from the ranks to a driver for a wealthy family with his hopes of becoming just like them.


The valuable part of this energetic odyssey mostly in Delhi is the clear if simplistic representation of caste and old-time feudal gangsterism in the modern day. In his voiceover, Balram analyzes the ruthless dominance of his employers, who regularly bribe local politicians to enhance their position and wealth running the uber-like empire. Balram expresses his love-hate relationship with his employers:

“The contented smile that comes to the lips of a servant who has done his duty by his master.”

Darwinism is the rule of the caste game as Balram slowly weans himself from his “captors” to plan his own rise to power through bribery and more serious crimes. Throughout Balram shows affection for them while a deep resentment over the social inequities that make him a slave no matter how well they treat him.

Midway is an occurrence that clearly defines the sacrifices Balram must make to stay in their good graces. Already he has the audience sympathy because of his upbeat, benign attitude toward the world-- Candide if you wish. As he slips into the dark side to survive and thrive, he dreams of the ramifications for his poor family, which do not deter him from his sinister trajectory.

In some ways the allegory of servitude can be globally applied to China and the US, who affect the well-being of the underclass with trade collateral damage like manipulating cheap outsourcing. No one can escape, and few will take the high road.

The White Tiger is an uncompromising deconstruction of caste in India. It behooves us to be aware of the pitfalls of its inequities. Although the hero is almost as charismatic as Slumdog’s Jamal (Dev Patel), their outcomes are different enough to make this theme complete in its win-lose narrative.

The White Tiger

Director: Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes)

Screenplay: Bahrani, from Aravind Adiga book

Cast: Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao (Stree)

Run Time: 2h 5m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at