The White Tiger
by writer/director Ramin Bahrani
I’ve been waiting over fifteen years to adapt and direct The White Tiger. I was reading rough drafts long before the novel was published in 2008. You see, Aravind Adiga, the author of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, has been one of my closest friends for over twenty years.
So I felt very close to the novel. It’s an amazingly gripping story with vibrant, sarcastic, subversive writing. And despite its searing subject matter, it is a fun read. In fact, I had more fun making this film than any of the films I’d made before.
At the heart of this electric story is the voice of the main character, Balram Halwai. His chances for success were cut short by poverty; society told him his destiny was to be no more than a servant to another man. His journey: to break free from this mental trap and to rise up out of a rigged system. He wants to be free, to have a chance to reach his potential.
In writing the script, I decided to follow the novel’s lead and use first-person narration. I had only used voice-over in a short film, “Plastic Bag” (featuring Werner Herzog’s voice as a plastic bag!), so I studied favorites like Jules and Jim, Fight Club, and Goodfellas. Balram’s voice-over helped tell the epic tale with sarcastic observations in the satirical tone of the novel.
To get to a final draft, I was excited to do what I love most in the writing process: research. I love learning about worlds and characters I don’t know. When I set out to India, Aravind gave me great advice: travel by bus, by foot, not by a chauffeured air-conditioned car. Try to see the country like a servant. I walked all the locations in the novel by foot.
When we scouted luxury apartment towers, where Balram’s master would live, I went straight to the parking garages to find the drivers and servants. I spent hours hearing their stories. I asked them if they saw a path to a better life. One of the older drivers looked up from his newspaper and said, “politics.” They all laughed, until a young man looked up from his phone and muttered, “crime.” Then someone turned up Bollywood music and they returned to their card game and phones.
But there is a simmering rage underneath the satire. What else can there be when most of us feel that we live in a rigged system, and that the only way out is “crime or politics?”