The White Tiger, already showing in theaters since January 13, is now streaming on Netflix. With executive producers Ava DuVernay, Priyanka Chopra, and Mukul Deora, the movie follows Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), an impoverished driver who deals with the degrading treatment of the ruling class as he pursues a more successful life as an entrepreneur.
Working for his master Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), Halwai believes his treatment from the rich is justifiable, learning from a young age that he must serve those in the upper tier of his society. However, he reaches his breaking point when ordered to take the blame for a hit-and-run accident, which sparks his resentment and a desire to take advantage of his master. The film is surrounded by Halwai’s narrative as he writes a letter describing his success story. Considered to be the reverse storyline of Slumdog Millionaire (even referencing it in the movie), The White Tiger’s dark satire depicts a man willing to do anything—betrayal, coercion and even murder—to achieve personal liberty.
With the film’s illustration of the friction between classes, it’s easy to wonder whether or not The White Tiger is based on a true story. So, here’s what we know.
Is The White Tiger based on a true story?
No, the movie sadly isn’t based on a true story. However, it’s based on the 2008 Booker Prize-winning fiction novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga. Directed by his friend and former Columbia University classmate Ramin Bahrani, Adiga says the story is slightly inspired by a number of young men he met while traveling through India.
But if the story rings a bell, it might be because it shares some similarities to a real-life incident. In 2002, Indian actor Salman Khan and his driver Ashok Singh were involved in a deadly hit-and-run accident. Singh originally testified that he was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident but that was eventually found not to be true, and Khan was arrested. The situation is strangely similar to details in the book and film, but it hasn’t been confirmed or denied by Adiga.
And although fictional, the movie’s prevalent concepts of upward mobility deliberately mirror aspects of the Indian culture. With a number of references to the Indian caste system which has transformed into today’s classism, the storyline in The White Tiger can feel true to some of its viewers, as Halwai navigates escaping his reality. In the novel, Adiga says people who escape caste are as rare as the white tiger.
“How many times has it been that you’ve driven past a homeless person or a homeless shelter and not thought about it?” Chopra told USA Today, detailing the concepts of the film. “Class disparity is what this movie is talking about, and that is super-universal…The majority of the world lives in very harsh circumstances.”
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