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What is a Servant Without a Master?

by S.A. Ozbourne 4 months ago in movie
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Since 2022 is the Year of The Tiger, here is a review of the movie The White Tiger

Poster for The White Tiger on Netflix (Source: Wikipedia)

I rate this movie 4.5 stars out of 5. Definitely worth a watch!

A movie about society, class culture, gender issues, poverty, religion, corruption, and crime, it’s definitely not a light-hearted comedy. And whether you know much about Indian politics or caste warfare, you will be able to relate to the main character and his struggles.

If you liked Parasite, Lion, or Slumdog Millionaire, you will most likely enjoy this film based on the book by Aravind Adiga. Not only will the acting, story, and cinematography impress, but the message itself is quite relevant.

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, starring Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, you can watch it on Netflix.

Summary (No Spoilers)

The story takes place mainly in Delhi, India. The main character named Balram tells the story of how he became a rich entrepreneur despite being from a low caste in a poor town.

The story flashes back and forth from his childhood, his family, his job as a driver, and his eventual connection with the man he drives, Ashok.

From a rich and corrupt family, Ashok used to live in New York and is much more westernized and therefore less bound by the social rules of the Indian caste system. He even married an Indian girl, Pinky, of a different caste in New York despite both his parents and hers not being happy about it.

The couple is very upper-class, modern, and socially conscious. They drink alcohol, attend dance parties, and are vegan but not for religious reasons. They care about the climate, democracy, women’s rights, growing the middle class, and eliminating the caste system in India.

But through meeting Balram, having certain life-changing events happen to them, and the influence of the rich family they must please, things get chaotic.

What I Liked About This Movie

Acting

I loved the actors, well, the actors that aren’t really famous in India. The main actor who plays Balram was amazing. I thought his look, his face, his facial expressions, his clothes, and his body, were all perfect for the role of Balram.

He was a small, lanky brown guy with bad hair and bad teeth but was still handsome and had personality. I could really feel happy when he was happy and sad when he was sad. He also had a good sense of humor. He reminded me of my cousin.

The writing for Balram, especially his inner monologue is genius. These are just some of the things he tells us the audience:

So I, too, should start off by kissing some God’s foot, but which God?

The Muslims have one. The Christians have three. And we Hindus have 36 million.

Making a grand total of 36 million and four divine feet for me to choose from.

There are some who think that none of these gods exist, but in my country, it pays to play it both ways.

The Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, all at the same time.

In the old days, when India was the richest nation on Earth, there were 1,000 castes and destinies.

These days, there are just two castes.

Men with big bellies and men with small bellies.

And there are only two destinies, eat or get eaten up.

Is there any hatred on Earth like the hatred of the number-two servant for the number one?

While I cleaned, he strolled about like a master.

He had every Hindu God lined up and was always praying, as if to accuse me of being a Naxal, a communist, like you, sir.

I would not let him out pray me.

Ashok’s older brother, The Mongoose, Ashok’s father, and the servants were also all great in their performances. The father was very calm and cruel. The bad brother was…bad. But still made you laugh despite being such a terrible person.

The servants, especially the one with the face disease was also perfect for comedic relief.

The thing to know about Delhi is the roads are smooth, the people are bad, and the police are rotten.

[showing magazine] This is great when you’re lonely or upset with your boss.

This has revenge, rape, murder, sex. It’s got everything. You can really enjoy yourself. You can even jerk off.

Red bra, big boobs…Country Mouse, you like that?

Big tits, huge asses! Hold them like mangoes and nibble with your teeth.

And suck ’em right up! But don’t let your little mouse get sucked up in their dark caves!

Story

The story was unique and great. I especially liked the stories of Balram’s eventual rise to become the driver for the rich family. His relationships with his dad, brother, and grandmother were really helpful to understand why he did things he did and was the way he was.

One thing that really blew my mind was his comparison to the servants of India and chickens in a chicken coop. That was probably my favorite idea in the movie. It was like when I watched the movie Matrix and Morpheus was explaining the construct and the creation of the matrix. So eye-opening.

And once we get to know Balram’s life as a driver and eventually find out how he gets to become a successful entrepreneur, I was impressed with the darkness. There were some predictable plot parts, but then things would turn around shockingly because the story just changed direction.

Dialogue

The inner monologue of Balram was quite intellectual and poetic. But even the dialogue between Balram and Ashok the rich son was witty and fun.

Everything between servant and master is always secret.

I’m not your master. Don’t say things like that. And stop calling me “sir.” My name’s Ashok. You can call me Ashok.

Ashok.

Yes, Ashok. I know it’s not the best name, but gotta live with it.

It is a really good name, sir.

Really? You like it? You keep it then.

Ji, sir.

It was also interesting to see the way Balram was treated by the masters, and how nice they were when they needed something. He was often treated as subhuman,

Give my brother a reading of the meter each day.

Yes, sir.

So we know that you’re not driving without permission and try to fuck the maid in the car. [laughs]

[chuckling]

What’re you laughing at?

When they needed to use Balram in order to save themselves, the fake politeness came out,

Namaste, sir.

Balram, come in. Come, come.

Greetings, sir!

Come in. Have a seat. Sit up. On the sofa. Make yourself comfortable. You are family now.

Nahi, sir.

Come, sit. All good?

Great, sir.

Have you spoken with anyone about what happened last night?

No, sir. I washed the car and went to bed.

Good.

Yes, sir.

It’s important that you not say a word to anyone.

Yes, sir.

Would you like some paan?

No, sir, I quit paan.

Come on! You still eat paan, I know it!

No, really, sir! Ashok Sir, tell them.

I know you eat paan.

Come on, sir.

Open it.

Is it all right? It’s very good!

[lawyer] The judge is taken care of. If your man does as he’s supposed to, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

My man will do what he’s to do. Right, Balram?

Yes, sir.

Visuals

The comparison of rich, upper-class hotels and office buildings, then the poor, crowded streets of Delhi were a good contrast. The cleanliness of the rich Indians compared to the dirt-poor conditions of Balram’s village was a reminder of the levels of society. Much like in Parasite, the rich lived high up in the towers and the servents lived underground in the parking garages.

It was definitely a visually pleasing movie with many of the scenes needing less dialogue because the cinematography gave the message loud and clear.

Some Things I Didn’t Enjoy

Brown vs. White

The two most famous actors ( playing Ashok and Pinky) were acting the way they do in typical Bollywood movies, fake and overacting. Trying to be as Westernized as possible, came off as cringy. The actor who plays Ashok was trying a bit too hard to be the New Yorker who felt like he was above his family and the caste rules in India.

[Mongoose] You’ll keep visiting them while I’m gone, and don’t let them push you for more money.

[Ashok] Look. We’re driving past Mahatma Gandhi after just having given a bribe to the minister. The world’s biggest democracy. Fucking joke.

I do think he played the role well as a kind of weak and annoying guy who tries to be progressive and forward-thinking but is always beat down by his father and brother and seems to fold under pressure.

I just felt that he seemed to overact when he was drunk or angry. It didn’t seem convincing.

[ with a drunk slur]I know what you were doing.

Sir, please don’t get upset with me.

You were at the temple offering prayers for my health.

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I was so worried for you, sir. I made an offering of 101 rupees in your name.

Come inside. Sit with me. Is this really where you live? It’s so damp, and the smell…

This place is like the Taj Mahal for me, sir.

Taj Mahal is a tomb, Balram. You don’t live in Taj Mahal.

Okay, sir.

I have never done what I wanted to do with my life.

What did you want to do, sir?

Music. Or produce it anyway. You know, I lived in the US for so many years, and I’d try to be like them. But I’m fucking Indian at heart, after all.

Absolutely, sir.

But we’re fucking Indians. I want to go to Bangalore and change my country’s future. That’s what I want to do.

Sir, you can do anything you want, sir. Sir, you are a man of quality.

And in terms of Priyanka Chopra-Jonas (who plays Pinky), she is a smart, beautiful, and accomplished woman and definitely a good actress, but this role didn’t fit her. Her lines were great. She was honest, direct, and fought for the rights of women and the evils of the class system. Her message was spot-on in the movie.

Hey, Ashok. Tell her this is not a place for her to talk.

Oh, my God! Excuse me. I’m sitting right here. You can speak to me. I am a doctor of chiropractic with a DPT from NYU.

Pieces of paper are good for hanging on the bedroom walls, where she belongs.

Okay, you know what? No. You know what? Me and Ashok are gonna go to Delhi, we’re gonna solve your tax fraud problem, and send you a postcard. How about that?

But for some reason, maybe it was the way she talked or her facial expressions, it seemed like her outbursts were just way over the top. It just reminded me of the typical musical style Bollywood movies of my childhood.

I also didn’t quite like the mixed messaging by Balram. Despite talking about how terrible the Indian lifestyle is and how corrupt it is, Balram continued to bash white people. It was weird and out of his character.

In the belief that the future of the world lies with the yellow man and the brown man, now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, cell phone usage, and drug abuse,

White people are on their way out, you know.

They’ll be finished within our lifetime.

It’s the century of the brown man and the yellow man, and God save everybody else.

The white man wasting himself with buggery, cellphone usage, and drug abuse? I think that is a universal problem. Indians are also doing the same thing. And white people being on their way out, also a bit strange considering he is working in the Silicon Valley of India which serves all the foreign companies like IBM, Cisco, Amazon, Intel, Honeywell, and Samsung. None of those are Indian companies. So though India is a booming IT country, they work for non-Indian or (white) companies.

Also, why are Ashok and Pinky the only ones conscious of the caste system and problems of India? Because they lived abroad? It kind of makes it seem that the people in India themselves don’t know their own problems. They obviously do, so why is the movie trying to say only the West understands the true problems of another society? Kind of condescending to tell you the truth.

The Movie Dragged

The movie was actually really great for the first 90 minutes. But then you know something bad is about to go down and things are spiraling to a point where there will be some sort of big event. But it just takes so long to get there. And it’s not a nail-biting type of suspense but just us sitting around and waiting for the story to begin again.

Like waiting for a commercial to end so we can get back to the show.

The climax should have come an hour into the movie, especially since once the big event happened, the aftermath was quickly explained and rushed. This leaves me to the final thing I didn’t like about the movie.

The Ending

I was all in until the climax scene. But then it just quickly wrapped up and ended. As if they ran out of time and budget and were like ok, that’s a wrap, we will just have a voice-over explain the ending and done.

And maybe the movie wanted to leave things hanging in the air I thought. But no, they pretty much explained what happened to Balram and what he’s doing. At the beginning of the movie, he wrote a letter to the prime minister of China who was heading over to India to talk to entrepreneurs, and at the end, he ended up talking with the prime minister. So I guess that was a conclusion.

But the details after the climax weren’t really shown. Balram glazed over what happened to him, what might have happened to his family, and what he ended up doing to become an entrepreneur.

I think the point of this movie was to show that the rich stay rich. The poor stay poor. And everyone and everything is corrupt in India. Politicians and police don’t care about anything except money. I wish they spent more time hammering that home in the end.

I think the point of the story though, came across because Balram proved that the only way to make it in India is to be corrupt and evil. And since he is the white tiger, he is unique and able to go from poor man to rich man. But I think, slowing down the ending and showing its progress more rather than wrapping it up in a few minutes would have been much better for viewers to understand the theme of the movie.

That being said, overall I think the movie was great. I liked that it poked fun at religions, democracy, politics, social class, gender relations, and poverty. It covered all the social issues troubling India and the world.

It was also funny, entertaining, sad, heartbreaking, and angering at times too. I loved and hated Balram even though he was the main character. I related to him at times and other times wanted to punch him in the face. But I think that was the point.

This article also appears here: https://medium.com/illumination/what-is-a-servant-without-a-master-5418c0dcb28a

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About the author

S.A. Ozbourne

A writer with no history or perspective is a paintbrush with no paint!

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