EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has set the Man Booker Prize-winning Aravind Adiga novel The White Tiger as a feature film. The novel is being adapted by Ramin Bahrani, who intends to make it his next directorial outing. Bahrani most recently directed 99 Homes, and he recently wrapped an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 for HBO starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. Mukul Deora is producing the new project through Watchtower Pictures, and Prem Akkaraju and Ken Kamins are executive producing.
Netflix chief Reed Hastings recently identified India as a big potential subscriber growth opportunity, and the subject matter is a strong fit. The novel focuses on the murderous rise of a Bangalore driver who climbs from the bottom of India’s caste society to become a chauffeur and successful businessman. The book has been likened to the Richard Wright novel Native Son (about a poor youth from Chicago who raises his station through a life of crime), and Bahrani sees the appeal of The White Tiger going far beyond India because of universal rags-to-riches themes. The subject describes his rise through poverty and corruption in correspondence with a Chinese finance minister preparing for a trip to Bangalore to learn about democracy.
Bahrani said the book shares the social themes explored in India-set films like Lion and Slumdog Millionaire. He also told Deadline he has been waiting his whole career for this opportunity and plans to be shooting later this year in India.
“The author has been a close friend since college, and he wrote parts of the book in my apartment,” said Bahrani, who attended Columbia University with Adiga. “One man’s personal story encompasses the entire scope of the country, and it is done with biting humor. I’m not giving anything away because it is revealed early, but the chauffeur kills his master and steals all his money. But he is charming in the way that Alex was in A Clockwork Orange. Or in Goodfellas, where you knew that Joe Pesci’s character was a sociopath, but you could relate to Ray Liotta’s character, a seemingly nice person who goes down the wrong path.
“It is also similar to the characters in 99 Homes in that the only way for Andrew Garfield’s character to come back up was corruption, and the only way Michael Shannon’s character could succeed was to be corrupt. The concept of rich and poor is so global, all over the world, and the U.S. isn’t immune to it. People here are feeling the same thing, it led to the rise of Bernie Sanders and a lot of people voted for Donald Trump because they saw him as the outsider who would change things. Clearly, he is not doing that, but people believed the concept at the time.”
Bahrani is repped by WME and Ziffren Brittenham.