The White Tiger
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Where: Lagoon Cinema.
"White people are on the way out," asserts Balram, the hero (sort of) and title character in "The White Tiger."
The latest from Iranian/American writer/director Ramin Bahrani is, like his "99 Homes" and "Man Push Cart," a have/have-not drama whose main character struggles against the constraints society places on him. Raised in an Indian village, Balram is determined to rise above his "sweet-maker" caste. He does it with the help of a job chauffeuring for a Delhi family whose connections to the West suggest they may not be tied to the outdated class system that guides what the movie skeptically calls "the world's largest democracy."
"The White Tiger" is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga that says people who escape caste are as rare as the titular creature. It's a corrosive satire that uses a Charles Dickens-type story to suggest that a revolt by the oppressed is not just likely. It's inevitable.
The movie finds stylish ways to clue us in that Balram is not an entirely reliable narrator — watch for the way the camera shifts subtly at several decisive moments — and flashbacks to warn us that Balram is much angrier and more violent than the genial face he presents to his employers.
As Balram careens toward a fate he has told us will be shocking, "White Tiger" blows through at least five endings, a device that worked better in the twisty novel. But the final finale still manages to give us pause with its insistence that white tigers may be scarce, but people who rebel against injustice are growing in number.