Ramin Bahrani’s Netflix thriller The White Tiger is a kinetic and thought-provoking ride. The acclaimed director’s adaptation of Arvind Adiga’s lauded 2008 novel charts the tumultuous journey of a poor Indian driver who must use his wit and cunning to break free from servitude.
The project was in many ways a personal journey for Bahrani. “Arvind and I have been friends for 25 years now,” the filmmaker says during the film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film awards-season event. “I had been reading the novel in draft form for four years before it was published. I was immediately riveted.”
Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who stars in the movie and also served as executive producer, explains: “We may look at this story as happening in an economy far from the West, but it is actually happening everywhere… it’s a movie that requires plenty of self-examination.”
The film showcases an international breakout role for actor Adarsh Gourav, who portrays the slippery but laser-focused protagonist Balram. “I had an incredible opportunity to live two lives in one character: the Balram from ‘the darkness,’ and the Balram from ‘the light’ when he becomes a successful businessman,” the actor says.
As Gourav explains, he went to impressive lengths to inhabit the role, including staying anonymously in an East Indian village and working as a cleaner at a food stall in Delhi.
“It was important for me to do that to understand the suffocation Balram felt,” he says.
Rajkummar Rao tells us how the team kept the atmosphere light on set and didn’t let the satirical tones tip too much into darkness: “Whenever there was scope to improvise or put a fun element into the scene, Ramin would encourage us to do that…all three of us understand the humor of our culture too so that helped.”
Check out the panel video above.
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