‘The White Tiger’ review: rags-to-riches thriller spotlights India’s class crisis

Newcomer Adarsh Gourav shines as a poverty-stricken driver to wealthy elites

In Netflix‘s The White Tiger, writer-director Ramin Bahrani tells a gripping story of class and corruption in Indian society. Adapted from Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, this beautifully shot and handsomely acted tale stars newcomer Adarsh Gourav as Balram, a driver to a wealthy Indian couple who uses his wit and charm to move up the ranks.

Born into poverty, Balram was a bright and gifted boy but never got the chance at a proper education. When he spies a job opening as chauffeur to the wealthiest family in town, he jumps at the opportunity to raise his public profile. Soon, he’s made himself indispensable to newly married Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his Indian-American wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). However, after a night of betrayal, Balram realises the lengths his new masters will go to save face – and incriminate him. On the verge of losing everything, he makes a final stand against centuries of inequality.

The White Tiger
Adarsh Gourav plays Balram, driver to a wealthy family. Credit: Netflix

While there will be obvious comparisons to Danny Boyle’s rags-to-riches Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire, this story offers little hope or redemption. Instead, it digs into the grimy underbelly of India’s class system. By using the narrative device of an e-mail written by Balram to the former premier of China, Wen Jiabao, on the eve of his visit to Bangalore – often referred to as India’s very own Silicon Valley – The White Tiger lays out a bleak, yet undeniably gripping story.


Throughout, Bahrani take a fly-on-the-wall approach which is reminiscent of his acclaimed 2005 debut Man Push Cart. He is aided by Gourav, whose breakout performance as Balram is supported by nuanced turns from Chopra and Rao – but there is only one star here. Frustratingly naive one minute and coldly calculating the next, Gourav still manages to make Balram likeable for the duration of the film. If you’re looking for a Friday night movie to while away a few lockdown hours – The White Tiger is the perfect choice.


  • Director: Ramin Bahrani
  • Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav
  • Release date: January 22 (Netflix)

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