“White people are on their way out. This is the century of the brown man and the yellow man. I’ve broken out of the coop.” Translation: Kill your masters and don’t look back.
Based on a 2008 novel by Indian author Aravind Adiga, Ramin Bahrani‘s The White Tiger (Netflix, 1.22) is a Nicholas Nickleby-like saga of a low-born, small-village grinning wannabe, Balram Halwai, who hustles his way into a chauffeur gig in Delhi, and then on to Bangalore, where he launches his own taxi business after [spoiler hide] and stealing his cash.
It’s basically about class divisions In India — appalling poverty, Hindu vs. Muslim, caste, loyalty, corruption, payoffs, outsourcing, hunger.
Notes as I watched: “A hungry, clever, intelligent young man from a lower caste learns the rules of the game, figures out the angles, turns a bit ruthless, makes his way up the ladder, gets what he wants.
“Bahrani is an excellent director. The native Indian atmosphere is rich and fascinating, the film is well-edited and nicely shot. A complex tale of ambition, corruption, hunger and lust for power. Inch by inch, rung by rung, darker and darker. Learn to smile as you kill.
“I know where this film is going. By hook and by crook, Balram is going to make it. Even if it requires the unfortunate murder [spoiler stuff]. It’s a Dickens tale with a touch of O Lucky Man. The long journey, the long road and all the potholes along the way.
“But I have to ask everyone who’s told me that I have to watch this, what’s the big deal exactly? I mean, it’s quite the class-A package, quite the immersion, very good writing, a respectable effort….a window into the real, rough-and-tumble India. But what am I supposed to do with it exactly?
“Nicholas Nickleby as a smiling and obsequious but surprisingly ruthless fellow in the end. Who doesn’t appear to be smart enough to even bury the body. Or bleach his teeth. Much better than Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire, but that’s not saying a great deal.
“Only two ways to the top. Crime or politics. Is it that way in your country too?
Friendo: “It’s an engrossing movie. All about the disparity between rich and poor in India. It’s staggering how the poor live. If it has any flaw, it would be that it’s too short. This could have worked even better as an epic, with an additional hour showing his rise to the top. Call it capitalism run amok. They should have showed him going full-on Scarface in the last third.”