June 5, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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India is not Bollywood: The Story of Caste and Violence in the White Tiger, Netflix hit movie

“Do we hate our masters behind the face of love or do we love them behind the face of hatred?” About the Heart of the White Tiger, the film was released on Netflix a few days ago. Finds himself confronted with that contradiction.

A kind of turning point that helps a personal question to portray the social order and contradictions of an entire nation: India, one of the most populous countries on the planet, has been structured over centuries on the basis of caste system. The lives of millions of people, inequality, class, poverty and colonialism are perpetuated without many subtleties.

They are somehow points of friction and its producers have already garnered acclaim in most parts of the world, and at first glance it may knock down another concept: at the cinematic level, India is not just Bollywood. There is another contradiction between the dance beauty of very traditional Indian cinema as opposed to the bloody cruelty expressed by the white tiger. “Social inequality in India is brutal and it is not talked about in public, but despite that it is still a problem,” the film’s actors underlined part of its sentiment.

The story is adapted from a book of the same name published by Indian journalist Arvind Adiga in 2008, which rose to become the New York Times bestseller of the season. Of course, no one was surprised by this event: Ramin Bahrani, an American director of Iranian descent (a cafe in any corner), was a co-founder of Adiga at Columbia University in New York in the 90s, when he was already handling a kind of draft of the White Tiger novel.

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During those years, the director was amazed at the harshness of his portrayal of Indian society, and commented that he did not “understand” why his partner’s text was so difficult to find a publisher.

Until, after the event and when the time came, he was able to bring the story to the screen through Netflix. Very simple story at first glance: A young man from a village has become a successful businessman in Bangalore, now known as the Silicon Valley of India.

In his own office, full of luxuries not found in his childhood, he begins to write an e-mail, in which he addresses Chinese Premier Jiabao, who in a few days will visit his country and meet with local entrepreneurs. Balram does not want to miss the opportunity to explain clearly what superpower he is visiting: the two countries have merged into two new world empires, although India is only proud of him.

In his marginal childhood, Balaram was one of the few who read. A trait highlighted by his teacher, from the beginning anointed him under an animal identity: he would be a white tiger in the forest, a unique creature, a beast born once per generation.

But his dictatorial grandmother puts him to work in a tea shop, from where the patron of the village where they live is called “La Sigina” – a lineage of the last another caste – they collected a third of what the locals earned. One of the film’s most poignant metaphors appears: Balram compares the almost immovable situation of the Indian caste, where some are obedient and others command, what happens in chicken coops, only the birds are slaughtered. Others are waiting for their turn.

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In this endless circle, the young man’s youngest son of “La Cigina” notices a light when a wealthy entrepreneur named Ashok (Rajkumar Rao), who recently returned from the US with his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), needs a driver. .

White tiger

In the subordinate / boss relationship they form a bond of trust, but are slowly replaced by a deadly rage and a chain of events that shape the final landscape of the film: in the end India is the strongest surviving kind of chicken house.

According to its filmmakers, if they are going to show another side of the Asian legend, it has to be done with people taken from its cinema and from its streets, movies or series from Hollywood are not much open and actors with roots are far away there.

“From the beginning it was clear that I wanted a local actor, not an image of someone new and the public if possible. Ideally, I was interested in someone who was not raised in a big city and came from a wealthy family. We saw a lot of people, and suddenly he appeared,” said director Ramin Bahrani. Said about the process of choosing the protagonist.

The filmmaker traveled through New Delhi for two months and enjoyed wandering in markets where battling at breakneck speeds, traveling in or overcrowded buses or traveling can be a daunting task.

For his part, the lead actor, Kourav, was a heavy metal singer, with experience on camera only for a few minor roles on television. The status he achieved by coaching at the best acting school in the country, he can only access thanks to the scholarship.

Rajkumar Rao, who was tasked with playing a rich young man returning to India to put into practice everything he had learned in North America, was at the opposite pole: he was a Bollywood star and already had a wide reputation in his industry. I understand, but I can not speak. I do not want to be a clich or force. “

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Finally, Priyanka Chopra Jones, a Hollywood person and one of the most popular actors, was very curious about the film when various media outlets reported: “The last four decades have taught us that there is corruption in democracy. We must open our eyes and accept that it does not work. There is anger hidden in society, in India, in the United States, everywhere … Balram refers to it all. Do immoral acts. We don’t have to appreciate what he does to understand that there are signs and reasons for what is happening.

In this sense, many critics have compared the story of the white tiger to the venerable South Korean film Parasite: the current social and political system only emphasizes one class, which inevitably leads to frustration, anger, violence and even death. It is no coincidence that contemporary cinema shows those cracks from two giants, whose economy seemed to engulf the planet and ancient empires.

The same white tiger says it: “America is already obsolete.” Then another graphic phrase appears: “The white man is past. The future belongs to the yellow man and the brown man. But to do this, too much blood still needs to flow in the streets.”