How would you describe a fast tack driving experience where you practically get, set and go, then enjoy the ride at a good pace, only to see the twists and turns that not just bring the pace down but also make you feel giddy, only to hit a wall with a thud, hence ending up causing a few bruises that you didn’t see coming? This is what happens with The White Tiger that starts off as a classy and engrossing experience, only to end up meandering so much in its journey that it ends up bringing in emotions that end up frustrating and irritating you in equal measures.
For starters, the film has a rather absurd plot about a master-servant relationship. Given the fact that this is 2021 where everyone from my car cleaner to driver to house maid to cook to the lobby guard knows his rights (and rightly so) and is not just exposed to the world of smartphones but also knows where to draw the line (again, rightly so), The White Tiger comes across as rather obsolete. More so, since it’s not set in the medieval times but the current times and that too in a big cosmopolitan like Gurgaon. The protagonists (Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas) live in M3M Gold Estate, a premium luxury property just a kilometer from where I live in real life and rest assured, not even a gardener will work there for Rs. 2000, leave aside a full time driver who is hired to drive a Pajero.
Really? Which era is the film set in because regardless of the decade that it may have been set in, this kind of exploitation is just not plausible.
Still, I went with the flow and the single most reason for that was the initial storytelling by Ramin Bahrani that was clever enough to be told from the point of view of the protagonist (Adarsh Gaurav) who is shown to be this car-rental entrepreneur who rose from being a coal crusher at a tea stall in a Bihar village. I was excited to know about his journey from being a fluent English speaking school dropout who over a period of time got into the mindset that having the right master is the best thing that can happen to a poor man in India.
Last I heard, this was considered to be regressive even in the days of Swarg (1990) where Govinda had such notions for Rajesh Khanna. Here, despite a New York returned maalik (Rajkummar Rao) and the American native maalkin (Priyanka Chopra) chiding him time and again that they don’t quite appreciate the master-servant concept, Adarsh responds every time with his 16 teeth grin that he is fine with that.
Ok, so be fine with that, if that suits you.
However the trouble begins (in his life as well as for the audiences) when the very same notions start getting questioned. Fine, so if only that would have made the central protagonist change his ways. None of that happens though. He stays confused, his team of maaliks (including Vijay Maurya and Mahesh Manjrekar) continue to kick and punch around, and over a period of time even the younger couple don’t quite make his life better. Mr. Rao allows his death warrant to be signed and Ms. Chopra Jonas hands him over Rs. 9300 as the fee of her guilt.
When Adarsh says somewhere around this time that his story would only get darker from here on, I should have actually caught the clue that the same would hold true for the film watching experience as well. Reason being that everything that happens from this point on is not just inexplicable but also puzzling and muddling. As for the finale, just about everything crumbles in the pre-climax and the climax, hence making you look at the screen wide eyed and exclaim – “Now what was that!”.
Heartbreaking because the performances are top notch here. Adarsh Gaurav has done smaller roles in the past but this one is his film and rest assured, quite some recognition will come his way. Rajkummar Rao is good indeed but after a while his ‘red bag’ escapades get repetitive while his attitudinal shifts get baffling. As for Priyanka Chopra Jonas, she is so good on screen with pitch perfect dialogue delivery and an ‘in-the-character’ act. But pray, why there was so less of her on screen, especially since she is pivotal to the film?
Yes, there are individual moments of brilliance in the film and the performances are such that they still manage to hold you right though those two hours despite the ambiguities. Still, this White Tiger doesn’t quite turn out to be precious indeed that deserved a definite dekko.