My take :
Imagine tossing a key into a man's hands and having him throw it back at you. This is one of the statements Balram, our devious and main character makes in 'White Tiger'. Calling him devious is oversimplifying the matter. He is multi faceted, a living and multilayered man from poor India, who has learnt to put on a cheerful mask while navigating the unjust caste system in an oppressive environment. He makes this statement and the rooster analogy of the Indian servant's perpetual servitude to a master to express how much the servants have become so used to it. It's become so ingrained in them that if you tried to free a man from his chains or ask him why he kept on transporting valuable goods to an undeserving and disrespectful master, he would curse you out.
White Tigers are mutant tigers that appear once in a generation. The rarity of this appearance points to the expectations people might have surrounding this event. It is a special creature, since its appearance is ever so rare. Just like Balram.
Balram was raised by a father in a poor but huge household. The word 'patriarch' comes to mind several times when I think of him, but I don't think this word about his father. I think it of his grandmother. So while this family is made of many units of smaller and related families, the grandmother is the sole ruler with an iron fist. She makes the men work and takes all their wages. I thought about her a lot and wondered who she would turn to for advice, not that she needed it because she seemed power drunk, very wrong and unwilling to change, but still it must be lonely at the top, especially with all that scheming.
Balram, who loved to study and was called the 'white tiger' at school because of the promise he showed had to let go of dreams to continue his schooling when his father was unable to pay his debts to the village landlord. And that was the first injustice.
'Do we loathe our masters behind a façade of love or do we love them behind a façade of loathing?'. That's a question Balram asks of himself when he becomes the 'second driver' for the village landlord's son, Ashok. In one funny scene, he tells Ashok that he could go 'get as many internet as his master wants'. This is one of the ways he tries to make himself likeable and portray himself as the ever faithful servant, ready to do his mater's bidding, for whatever and whenever. Until of course, he was asked to take the blame for the roadside accident Pinky(Ashok's wife) caused while drunk driving with three of them in the car.
This film really showed the little moments that wears a man out; the teeth brushing scene where Balram wonders why he was never taught to brush his teeth, the time he used air freshener as a deodorant, the way Ashok talks about him like he's not in the room, the blatant disrespect by his masters(Ashok's dad, older brother) and the jabs from fellow drivers. The voices around him that made him feel worthless, as if he was a person to be used and dumped and whose life could be traded for and compensated by giving him a quick meal. It felt satisfying to see what he made of himself in the end.
The Baker's take:
I love how the movie starts out with the driver in the back seat trying not to be worried about his boss's drunk driving.
The movie then takes us back to the issues like religion and the social economic divide of India where cows are fed better, schools with bad education and uncomfortable homes for proper study. Using the boy as an example, the movie also shows us that even the promising among the lower economic divide are usually sucked in this blackhole and the poverty cycle continues.
The movie also shows the dark side of the lower economic India where you can't get a doctor when sick because politicians have made false promises and no hospitals have been built in most villages. Even in villages where hospitals have been built, you can' get a doctor, so poor people die.
It also talks about India's servant system, equating it with chicken coops and how every servant is loyal to a fault and all the adulations you have to make to the higher class. While taking driving lessons, we see the discrimination in India, in the way the driving lesson teacher talks and while he is taking his boss for a drive, we see the fault that is India's caste system.
We also see how these discriminations are taken seriously when he fires his driver of twenty years because he's a Muslim. While in Delhi, the movie shows us just how the servant system is so accepted that a hotel has servant quarters in the garage, the corruption of democracy and the progressiveness of the youngest son, also called 'the lamb'.
As the movie progresses, we see Balram question his upbringing and how he was never taught about things like brushing, which tells us that most times, we are a product of our environment. The wife of 'the lamb' kills someone while drunk driving and flees India with the help of Balram, who takes the blame as the driver. The family makes Balram sign a confession it was him, he never thought he had a way out so he signs it and it mentally breaks him till he retaliates by pushing 'the lamb' away when he is angry his wife left him. It is also notably we can't blame Balram because he has never heard of a woman leaving the husband.
The events led him to finally finding a way to leave his chicken coop which involves cheating his boss, killing him and eventually founding a business.