Poverty Porn, Saviour Complex: The White Tiger Caters to the West

Deeksha Sharma
·3-min read

(Spoilers ahead)

From Apu in Simpsons to The White Tiger, films and shows showing India and Indians have sure come a long way. But with a strong, then controversial, book like The White Tiger why do films like these fail to have a grave impact on the Indian audiences?

Starring Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas in lead roles, The White Tiger dropped on Netflix on 22 January. It was the most anticipated film for a long time and the great win came as Priyanka Chopra Jonas also took on the role as one of the producers of the film.

The English-Hindi Conundrum

Recently, we also saw the series The Suitable Boy, which was again a book converted into a series. With dialogues spoken in English in a film that sets out to string the story of the poor in a country like India, the disconnect is a given. English is more sacred to some of us than it was to the British. Even in the 21st century India, we see people being humiliated for not having a command over the language.

Poverty Porn

Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle, is the favourite film of any Indian American, and I wish I was making a generalisation. The film was critically acclaimed. But if it was made today, would it be as popular?

Think again? The White Tiger sets out to tell you a lot about the divide that exits but did you think about the many lines of divide it missed? In the past 12 years (since Slumdog Millionaire was made), the theme that attracts Hollywood about India is STILL poverty and always English books made into films. Now consider the number of books written about the class divide in Delhi or even Mumbai's life, there's so much more that's waiting to be explored.

Also Read: ‘The White Tiger’ Review: A Scathing Commentary on Caste and Class

Familiarity Brings in Predictability

The servant turning against the master is the one story we have seen all this while in movies and shows. Oppression misses the point and it all becomes about being the most predictable plot ever (for those who didn't read the book). Call this the little hazard that comes with trying to paint the book in a movie? Could be!

What's worse? A layman will find more reasons to oppress those who work for them.

The Indian American Saviour Syndrome

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who plays Pinky in the film, is the only character who shows some sympathy towards her servant Balram Halwai played by Adarsh Gourav. Pinky is an Indian American who has seen struggle while growing up as she states in the film. And then there is Ashok played by Rajkummar Rao, who either doesn't have a brain of his own or is so weirdly shackled due to his upbringing, that he goes back and forth in trying to find any sympathy towards Balram.

No, you don't have to go abroad to study to develop fake sympathy. And no, Indians can be sympathetic too.

The strength of the film, however, is Adarsh Gourav's acting. His body language and commitment to his character is what leaves impact, some particular scenes more than the other. In a scene, he lightly slaps his master Ashok who has passed out after heavy drinking. As tempers start to flare in another scene, Balram pushes him to the floor. Gourav manages to keep you hooked.

But what's new in The White Tiger for an Indian watching?

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