In the year 2008, Aravind Adiga wrote his book ‘The White Tiger’ which won the Man Booker Prize. The novel was adapted to a film that released on 22nd January 2021 on Netflix by the same name.
The characters in The White Tiger chiefly communicate in English. It highlights the prevalence of class division in India. Attracting the western gaze has been a major aim of this film. However, the question arises, why is it important to draw western attention towards India’s casteism.
To fathom the matter we shall talk a bit about the plot of The White Tiger. The central character of the movie, Balaram Halwai- a poor village man, moves to the city to work as a chauffeur to the son of a wealthy landlord, Ashok who is married to Pinky, an Indian-American woman. The job of Ashok’s chauffeur is Balram’s dream job during the initial minutes of the movie.
Job roles like a chauffeur, housekeeper, etc. have the essence of servitude in India, mostly played by people hailing from lower economic backgrounds. This idea becomes more prominent in Balram’s mind as he suffers humiliation and discrimination after moving to the city. The bates of capitalism that thrust individuals to climb the ladder of class hierarchy through the acquisition of wealth start gulping Balram.
On one occasion, Pinky forces Balram to let her drive while she was drunk. She hits and kills a child in the process. Balram is forced to accept the allegation and sign a false confession by Ashok’s family. This event hurts Pinky deeply who then leaves Ashok and goes back to America. Balram is left behind as Ashok’s emotional support. However, the feeling of being an inferior in the society deepens within Balram. His bitterness towards Ashok makes him steal money from him with false receipts, use his car as a taxi and finally kill him and run away with a lump sum.
He flees to Bangalore compelled by his ambition to open his own business of private taxi service by bribing the police with his stolen money. He does not treat his employees as servants and takes care of their families and well-being. Balram changes his name to Ashok Sharma.
The movie strongly displays the effects of globalization in Asian countries. The desperate need to modernize has led to a sharp rise in corruption. It poignantly exposes the irreplaceable effects of capitalism. Balram escapes his plight only by blemishing his ethics and blurring the differences between right and wrong.
As soon as one ascends the ladder of economic well-being, the hierarchy is created. This hierarchy is then maintained through generations. Balram has been fed the idea of serving right from his early years. Hence the aspiration of breaking the status quo never crossed his mind unless he witnessed the glitz and his inability to enjoy it in the city. Balram’s new name, Ashok signifies how one can only replace the hierarchy but never change or break it in a country with sharp socio-economic differences.
When such a concept is displayed on American screens, it is a question of whether viewers connect with the emotions or the exploits. To perceive the Indian crisis, however, does not seem to be the aim of The White Tiger’s motif on American screens. It is made more clear when Pinky abandons her husband and goes back to America. She recognizes the exploits and that makes her uncomfortable. Hence it is a way to attract the western gaze to its own vices. It is a cry that talks about the threats of capitalism and westernization in a castist country.