REVIEW: The White Tiger

This is a review of the film, The White Tiger (2021). You can view information for the book here.

This title caught my eye because the book had been in my classroom library for many years, but I never actually read the book. At 125 minutes, the film moves at a natural pace. That is, until the end.

The exposition introduces us to the protagonist, Balsam, a character who sees an opportunity to become the driver for a young wealthy Indian businessman. He borrows money from his relative to learn to drive and, through cunning, lands the position. There is a recurring metaphor throughout the narrative of a chicken in its coop–there is no way for a chicken born in a coop to leave the coop. This is a similar theme to that of the film, Parasite (2019), although I would argue that that film explores that theme more effectively and thoroughly. While Balsam is certainly a chicken born in a coop, unlike the other chickens, he’s aware of this predicament and is ever aware of the boundaries of his coop. Because of this awareness, he is able to circumvent the boundaries and find his way out, but only through desperate means.

Balsam’s transformation is somewhat surprising; under his subservient façade he is able to acquire the skills and means to achieve his goal, but it comes at a great price. What he does not realize, however, and what is made obvious at the end of the film, is that even though he’s made his way out of his coop, he is still inside a much larger coop with boundaries that are not so clearly defined. Balsam thinks of himself as a king, but he’s a small business owner. He tries to catch the attention of the Chinese Prime Minister, but he is but a fly and is cast off. To illuminate the irony of the moment, Balsam doesn’t even realize how little he matters to the PM. In his mind, he is on the same level as the man he murders in order to acquire the funds needed to begin his business endeavors.

I see a lot of parallels not just with Parasite, but also with The Great Gatsby (1925). However, I would view the film as a sort of prequel to Fitzgerald’s novel. It is only hinted that Jay Gatsby had done horrible, unethical, or illegal deeds to amass his wealth, but it’s never clearly revealed. Additionally, even though Gatsby is certainly wealthy, it doesn’t even matter. His wealth does not elevate him to a meaningful social position that allows him to acquire what he really wants. He is still “new wealth.” In other words, he’s still in the coop that he was born in, just as Balsam is.

When it comes to film, there are so many areas to discuss–the cinematography, the score, the acting, the script, etc. I am not an expert by any means in these areas. The movie does not offer anything new in its presentation. It begins with a dramatic scene followed by something akin to, “You’re probably wondering how I got here.” The character then proceeds to tell his story with several cutbacks to him in his present state as what appears to be a very successful businessperson. The irony is revealed just at the end that he is not as successful as he thinks he is. The acting is believable, the score is suspenseful when it needs to be, and the pacing is appropriate for the story being told. In all, this is an enjoyable film. I wonder, however, if other works do the job more effectively. I am not sure that The White Tiger will stand the test of time as The Great Gatsby has, or as Parasite certainly will. The film has made me interested in reading the book.

Reddit made the news recently when r/wallstreetbets was successful in raising the price of Gamestop ($GSE) and AMC ($AMC) to astronomical levels, which resulted in hedge funds losing billions of dollars in shorts. Hedge funds are angry that individuals made money at their own game. It is interesting to me that throughout our history, we see this theme playing out–the rich stay rich at the expense of the poor, and when the poor do make money, especially at their own game, it’s seen as problematic, despite the unethical practices of wall street (See The Big Short (2015) for just one example). Jay Gatsby is presumed to have made his fortune by bootlegging. The “old money” wealthy were his clientele, but he did not earn their respect or exclusivity because he was “new money” rich. In other words, theirs is a club you are born into, much like the hedge funds vs. r/wallstreetbets and Balsam vs. the wealthy elite of his world. He’s not in their club yet. Although he is able to recognize the confines of his chicken coop, he is unable to see the confines of the even bigger coop he’s in. It’s hard to determine if this irony is tragic. After all, Balsam is happy, and he’s made significant changes to the way business operates, at least for his business. Then again, like Jay Gatsby, he was only able to leave his coop because he committed a serious crime.

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