The White Tiger, directed by Ramin Bahrani

“It’s the century of the brown man and the yellow man, and God save everybody else,” asserts Balram Halwai, the servant-turned-entrepreneur whose rise we follow in The White Tiger.”

Based on the New York Times bestseller and award-winning novel, Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) narrates his epic and darkly humorous rise from poor villager to successful entrepreneur in modern India. Cunning and ambitious, our young hero jockeys his way into becoming a driver for Ashok (Rajkumar Rao) and Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), who have just returned from America. Society has trained Balram to be one thing — a servant — so he makes himself indispensable to his rich masters. But after a night of betrayal, he realizes the corrupt lengths they will go to trap him and save themselves. On the verge of losing everything, Balram rebels against a rigged and unequal system to rise up and become a new kind of master. By the end, he will have blackmailed, bribed, and murdered his way into a new life.  “Men born in the light, like my master, have the choice to be good,” he reasons, “men born in the coop, like me, we don’t have that choice.” 

More than a decade after Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the person featured on its dedication page, Iranian-American film director Ramin Bahrani, ended up directing its cinematic adaptation. For casting, Bahrani had just one instruction for Tess Joseph, the film’s casting director, while scouting for actors: “show me your best and most real actors”.

And he found him in Adarsh Gourav and the reason you should watch this film. This 26-year-old, “a largely unknown actor whose soulful combination of sheer will, and vulnerability should, in a just world, win him the kind of accolades that helped make Slumdog’s Dev Patel a star.” – The Entertainment Weekly. Adarsh Gourav is just phenomenal, he steals the show, and the world has indeed found a star!

Adarsh Gaurav is an Indian actor, singer, songwriter who has trained in Hindustani classical music. He has been around since 2010 as an adult actor, doing small parts in Bollywood and international Indian-centric films. But today he is being lauded by all as the “star of Ramin Bahrani’s film“. Bollywood producers must be asking why they did not see his talent and cast him in more challenging roles.  

Having read The White Tiger when he was 13, he loved the way Balram saw the world and the way he named people around him after animals. “I do that too”, he remarks in an interview. “Cut to 2017, I was jobless. I was ready do anything connected with cinema. I just wanted to be occupied and make some money. At that time, I got a call from casting director Tess Joseph and I was called for the audition of The White Tiger. My only motivation for doing the audition was to be called for more auditions. That I’d actually get the part of Balram was a thought that didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to give a good audition.” It was only after the director Ramin Bharani joined in the third round of auditions that he began to get hopeful. “I bought a shirt and trousers from the station for 100-150 rupees and wore them for my auditions”.

When he got the part, “the first thing I did was to find someone who would take me to a village in Jharkhand. But I had no friends from that area. Finally, a friend of a friend from Jharkhand agreed to take me to his village, where I spent a month. We had to use five modes of transportation to get there. I requested him not to tell anyone in the village I was an actor.

The White Tiger‘s success has propelled Gourav onto the world stage. “I almost don’t want to believe it,” says Gourav, referring to the nominations for BAFTA 2021 or the Oscars. “But I am hoping that these things give me an opportunity to work with the kind of directors I want to work with. I think any award, or any recognition is just a way forward for a storyteller—whether it is an actor, a producer or a writer.”

When asked if he is ready for stardom, “I don’t know about the stardom part but I’m definitely excited to work with people who have a strong voice and people who are ready to experiment and say something different than the standard norm,” he tells Sky News. “And, yeah, I’m excited to see what kind of doors get opened up with this.”

Adarsh Gourav Quotes

The White Tiger came to me was providential. But I never harboured any desire to be a star or anything like that. I grew up influenced by actors who were not necessarily stars”

“This discrimination between the haves and have-nots is universal”

“More than stardom, it was the idea of being in relevant cinema that appealed to me. Just having a romantic track in a big-budget film somehow didn’t appeal to me. I would have more fun playing the villain than the romantic hero. Not that I have anything but respect for mainstream cinema and I’ve great respect for mainstream actors and at some point, I’d like to do a singing and dancing role.”

“I have just started out. I’ve a lot to learn. After The White Tiger I have no other assignment. There are talks. I want to take up projects that have something to say.”

Wishing this extraordinary newcomer all the success he deserves and look forward to seeing him grow as an actor. Watch the film on Netflix and here is one of the best reviews of the film I have read.

About Parminder Vir OBE

Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.

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