The White Tiger: A celebrated novel brought to life | Sunday Observer

The White Tiger: A celebrated novel brought to life

12 December, 2021

The White Tiger is a 2021 drama film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani. The film stars Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra, and Rajkummar Rao. The film was produced by Mukul Deora and Ramin Bahrani, and executive produced by Chopra, Prem Akkaraju, and Ava DuVernay.

An adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel of the same name, the story is about Balram, who comes from a poor Indian village and uses his wit and cunning to escape poverty.

Adiga published his book and decided to adapt it into a film in late 2010, with the rights being sold to producer Mukul Deora, but the film was not made for some years. Bahrani was chosen to helm the adaptation, and was eager to do so, having read early drafts of the novel even before it was published.

Filmed extensively across Delhi in October to December 2019, ‘The White Tiger’ premiered at Las Vegas on 6 January 2021, and was screened at limited movie theatres in the United States on 13 January. It was released globally through the streaming platform Netflix on 22 January 2021. ‘The White Tiger’ received positive reviews from critics who praised its direction, screenplay and the performances by the cast. At the 93rd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.


Producer Mukul Deora bought the rights for the adaptation of Indian writer Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel ‘The White Tiger’, which is about “an extraordinary journey of a self-made man from a tea-shop worker in a village to a successful entrepreneur in a big city.” However, as there were no directors picked by Deora, Adiga chose his college-friend and director Ramin Bahrani to helm the film.

Bahrani had read the rough drafts of the novel years before it was published, with Deora stating “He’s very dedicated to adapt it into a film”. Bahrani added “It’s an epic story that required a lot of financing and money and resources to get it made in India, that wasn’t so easy when the novel came out”.

He initially sold the distribution rights to Netflix, as Bahrani stated that “it had an appetite for global stories, for voices that are not typically represented behind a camera or in front of the camera”.

When Priyanka Chopra scrolled through Twitter, she saw a headline that a film adaptation of the novel was in the works. She called her agent about the film to offer her collaboration. Thus, Chopra served as one of the executive producers of the film, under her banner Purple Pebble Pictures, alongside Prem Akkaraju, Ava DuVernay and Ken Kamins.

“The book had a profound effect on me. It made me uncomfortable and made me think about a part of the world that we sort of desensitize ourselves to. When I read the book, I was fascinated with the perspective of the narrative. The story’s portrayal of raw ambition and the extent one will go to achieve one’s goals is riveting.”


While Bahrani added and deleted a few sequences and adapted the character for the screen, the story stays largely faithful to the novel. He stated: “The hardest part was cutting things out, since I love the book so much. But when I put all of it in the script, it came to 200 pages! Aravind gave me a wealth of gold and cutting it is just not easy.” Initially, he considered updating the story (set in 2005) to a more recent setting, before abandoning the idea, as it is a period film.

In the making of the script Baharani stated, “One of the biggest changes today is that thing in your hand, the supercomputer. In today’s world, Balram wouldn’t be writing emails, he’d probably be doing video or Instagram. This is only the second time in my life that I’ve adapted a book and I wanted to stick to it.”


On review aggregator ‘Rotten Tomatoes’, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 164 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “Well-acted and beautifully made, ‘The White Tiger’ distills the strengths of its source material into a grimly compelling drama. “On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.

Richard Lawson of ‘Vanity Fair’ praised the acting and Bahrani’s direction and screenplay, saying that the film brings the celebrated novel to vivid life.

In his 4 out of 5 stars review, Robbie Collin of ‘The Telegraph’ wrote “a punchy, propulsive watch, blown along by snappy editing and a hip-hop-driven soundtrack that stresses that there’s still much fun to be had when hefty themes of inequality and geopolitics are being tackled.”

David Ehrlich of ‘IndieWire’ gave the film a ‘B’, calling it a “darkly comic thriller” and a “brutal corrective” to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008). K. Austin Collins from ‘Rolling Stone’ gave the film three out of five stars, writing that the film was a capable, compelling and topical drama but suffered “for giving us a setup that’s richer than the follow-through.”

The critic praised Gourav’s performances as “unassuming but pitch-perfect” and he felt that Rao and Chopra Jonas also gave equally worthy performances.

In a mixed review, A.O. Scott of ‘The New York Times’ deemed the film “a barbed rags-to-riches tale” and wrote “The plot is lively, and the settings vividly captured by Bahrani and the director of photography, Paolo Carnera, but the characters don’t quite come to life.

They aren’t trapped by prescribed social roles so much as by the programmatic design of the narrative, which insists it is showing things as they really are.

If it wasn’t so insistent, it might be more convincing.” Jesse Hassenger of The A.V. Club criticised the film for only “hitting the key themes and scenes without finding an independent tone”, while also adding that the overtly explaining narration repeatedly takes the reins away from Gourav’s acting.

Baradwaj Rangan of Film Companion wrote “Like in 99 Homes, Bahrani directs with an eye on narrative propulsion rather than subtlety — but Balram’s psychological arc is gripping, and the film is compulsively watchable.”