Unless you've been living under a rock, you are bound to have heard something or another about what people are calling the new 'Slumdog Millionaire,' "White Tiger." Starring underdog Adarsh Gourav and featuring Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao, the star-studded film is based on Australian-Indian writer Aravind Adiga's 2008 novel The White Tiger.
The movie takes you through the life of Balram Halwai, a lower-class tea shop worker from a tiny little village in the Gaya District who builds himself up to be a successful entrepreneur in the big city of Bangalore. However, this is not your typical boy who is poor but works hard and wins the lottery, happy go lucky story. It is a real and ugly look at how many South Asian societies view people of different classes AND how the different classes view themselves. It showcases the rationalization of people's actions from rich to poor and how a corrupt society still filled with stigma and 'traditional' views continues to run in the name of the "world's largest democracy."
Now, if you haven't seen the movie yet, I urge you to stop reading, turn on Netflix and come back to this blog post when you're done because we are about to release a heck of a lot of spoilers, and this is a movie you need to watch with fresh unskewed eyes. Before we continue, I would like to put a disclaimer out there that this is simply my perspective/ opinions on the film and the subjects it touches upon. In no way am I saying you have to agree with me; in fact, I would love to hear your own thoughts on the matter! So please do comment on Instagram or dm me, and we can have a chat!
So first off I would like to say that it is a terrific movie. While I still can't understand the ending as I'm not sure why Balram told his employees to kill their masters in the name of liberating themselves (I mean, wouldn't they technically be killing him?) The overall depiction of how many people within Indian society treat those who are from a lower 'caste' or work for them as 'servants' is spot on. Even the word 'servant' itself gives such an indication as to how poorly the 'lower class' are often treated. Yet, I appreciated this movie because it didn't simply blame the rich without explanation but delved into the mindset of the poor and their reactions to certain situations. It took a perspective that I have rarely seen on the big screen and showed how years of societal pressure, expectations, and abuse have warped the minds of many and convinced individuals that their only purpose is that to serve. And yet once that mindset is broken, instead of turning to the attitude of trying to bring oneself up through hard work and determination instead the mind wanders to a place of blame, revenge, and in extreme cases, murder, because that's all these individuals have ever known and seen from those 'above' them. You see, even before Balram begins to truly manipulate his master, you see a little bit of the vindictiveness in him when he destroys the life of his Muslim coworker to get ahead. There is no sense of guilt, only pride of moving upward, and so I believe that the whole scene of him trying to better himself is, for lack of better words -bullshit. It is simply an illusion of what he thinks he is meant to do rather than what he actually believes. To me, it showcased that there is this inherent belief in many South Asian countries that everyone has a place that is dictated to you by society, and that place is where you stay. You cannot rise or fall by any morally correct means because it is your duty to remain. Thus, the only way up is to ignore your sense of right and wrong entirely and force those above you down.
While the viewpoint of lower-class Indian society was extraordinarily apt and exciting to watch on screen, my favorite thing about this movie was the way the director portrayed Priyanka Chopra's character. She is initially seen as this very forward-thinking, fair and righteous person due to her western upbringing. However, she is also showcased as stuck in this weird area of society where she is idolized and seen as better than for being a 'westerner' but scrutinized for being a woman who doesn't know her' place,'- something I can relate to. She doesn't care for anyone's bullshit so much so that she questions Balram's attitudes towards being a 'servant' and does the unheard of when she not only stands up herself but Balram as he is being mistreated in her husband's home. She sounds perfect right? That is until Balram is put in severe harm's way. You see, the second she makes a mistake, and he is made to pay for it with his life, she doesn't actually do anything about it. She says it's wrong, she says she feels guilty, but at the end of the day, she doesn't come forward and take responsibility. What's worse is when the fear of her being caught is gone, and she finally has the time to face herself, she doesn't even apologize but instead tries to compensate him with money (as if that will make it all better) and runs away. You see, this movie didn't idolize the West and those that grew up in it, and I personally am all for that. As an American born desi, I see very similar issues in both areas of the world. While these issues seem less evident in the US, the overarching themes of a disparity between people are still prevalent. Instead of classism, it's racism (I mean, hello! If it weren't, we wouldn't be having such a large BLM movement right now). The rich still look down on the poor, and those that are seen as less than still often are forced to take harsher punishment than those that are privileged. There is no one country in the world that has yet managed to reach equality for all people; no place has managed to beat this plague of social disparity. So it was refreshing to see a movie that in whatever small way showed the audience that yes, while we are specifically speaking about India, the overall ideas should be applied to the wider world, and the West isn't all it's made up to be.
Now, although there are 1000 other things to talk about in this movie, and I could go on for hours, this blog post is getting a little long, and I don't want to bore anyone to death. So before I sign off, I just want to leave you with a question. While it seems like the answer is obvious, I would appreciate it if you took a few minutes to sit down and think about how these societal norms have skewed your mindset and if there's anything you do that feeds it.
If we, those that are educated and have the privilege to help others and treat others in a decent manner, and have the ability to fight against prejudice, do not do so, then how can we expect those that were not born into the same circumstance, are not privy to the ideal of equality and are constantly treated like they are worth nothing to believe they are worth more than that? And what's worse, how can we expect them not to be angry at us?