Reviewed by: Sunanda Mehta, Senior Journalist & Author
Report by: Anna Dragonette
The focus of the meeting was to draw a comparison between this wildly successful book and the equally successful small screen movie based on it.
The zoom meeting started a little late due the stubborn insubordination and ‘untrustworthiness’ of our artificial intelligence. Fortunately, human intelligence prevailed and all 32 of us present settled in for an evening of thought provoking absorption into the realism of fiction as depicted via the vehicles of the written word as well as the cinematography.
Sunanda began by taking us through the author’s life journey that had led to the writing of his debut novel ‘The White Tiger’
Thereafter she enlightened us on the novel’s journey from a largely ignored piece of fiction by an unknown author, gathering dust on the shelves of booksellers in the English speaking world, to being catapulted to fame and fortune on becoming the recipient of the prestigious Booker Prize, in 2009. The book became the focus of attention once again, with its rebirth as a small screen film, released during the global ‘stay at home’ days of COVID 19.
Next Sunanda gave us a brief sketch of the various characters and the roles they play. She briefly touched on the use of animal sobriquet to describe the exploitative techniques of each of the ‘fat bellied men’ who fed off the village misery.
Sunanda effectively employed the use of a power point presentation to communicate the multiple layers inherent in the novelist’s well researched narrative. The innovative technique of using the slides, containing relevant passages from the book juxtaposed with visuals from the film, gave texture and clarity to the commentary.
We were riveted as she took us through the trials of an underprivileged rural childhood, to the coming of age in an affluent small town, to the plotting and planning of a rooster breaking free and culminating in the creation of a utopian enterprise in a southern city.
She also dwelt on the emotional confusion of a boy trying to figure out the how to become the man (as opposed to donkey) his father dreamt of him becoming, the servant dealing with ambivalent feelings towards his master, the oppression of an intelligent, talented young man that eventually explodes into an act of uncharacteristic violence.
She also touched upon the role played by the corrupt polity, bureaucracy and constabulary, in the young protagonist’s rationalization of murder, theft and the sacrificing of sixteen members of his family.
As a wrap up Sunanda enumerated the techniques employed, that made the book stand out against its competitors. It was stark, realistic and witty and most importantly departed from the time honoured maxim that in the long run it is good action that is rewarded.
She then summarised her take on the book versus the film.
After the commentary Sunanda requested the participants to share their thoughts on how the movie measures up to the book. This elicited a wide range of responses beginning with Satish who felt that the film had greater clarity than the book.
Mohini too, was of the opinion that the book was too stark, being focussed on dirt, filth, ugliness and hopelessness. The movie on the other hand was far more palatable as it depicted these same images, with greater finesse and sensitivity.
There was general consensus that the character of ‘Pinky’ was better developed in the film.
Indu found the book fiercely honest and far more powerful than the movie.
Latika opined that the film was lacking in subtlety, was stereo-typed and left nothing to the imagination.
Finally the participants engaged in a lively discussion on the myriad socio-political issues arising from the content of the book.
Altogether a stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable evening!
The Book Club Pune has diligently been meeting on Sundays at 6.30pm sharp. It is a much-awaited evening. The books presented are well curated and the presenter usually does her homework well and presents it with confidence and candour.
At the 50th meeting since the lockdown., we had with us Sunanda Mehta, the journalist par excellence of the book, Sunanda Pushkar fame, presenting The White Tiger authored by Aravind Adiga.
Through a PPT, she brought to our attention that the book won the Man Booker prize 2008. Aravind Adiga was the fourth Indian author to have got this prize and this was his debut book. It wasn’t doing well, till it won the prestigious prize. She gave us a brief background about Aravind being born in Mangalore and later goes to Australia with his father, after his mother’s death. He attends Columbia, Oxford, becomes a journalist, works for Times etc. freelances bit, but soon realizes that his dream was to become an author.
13 years later a film on Netflix has been made by the very friend he dedicated his book to.
It is a story of the great caste, class divide in India and is narrated through emails Adarsh Gaurav, the main protagonist, the White Tiger writes to the Chinese Premier. It is his story, Balram in this book, about his village in Bihar ruled by and in servitude to brutal landlords, who have been named after animals like Stork, Buffalo, Mongoose, Raven…all out to get their pound of flesh.
Balram soon enough realizes the one way to get out of the rooster coop is education. An official from the Education department visits his school one day and asks questions. Balram answers all with great fluency, so the man names him White Tiger, which is a rare animal. Kusum, his grandmother and a tyrant, pulls him out of school and puts him to work at the tea shop with his brother, where he overhears conversations about drivers being paid well in the big city of Dhanbad.
Now on it is a story of his wiliness. He is a go getter. He somehow wins his grandmother over with talks about her weakness, money in Dhanbad as a driver. Soon he is on his way to the big city searching for a job and somehow with a stroke of luck lands in their village landowner’s mansion and very soon becomes the main driver, worms his way and wins over his America returned master and his wife’s heart, accompanies them to Delhi where he is bedazzled by the land of opportunities and wealth. He devises a plan to do away with his master. He has no qualms in committing the cold-blooded murder of his kind hearted, trusting master, and escaping with the briefcase full of money.
He bribes the cops with part of this money, a faded picture of wanted man is put out. He changes his appearance and becomes Ashok Sharma, his real name.
Next, he plays a googly and gets the drivers serving the IT companies and call centres laid off, and overnight moves in with his own drivers’ service, which he names the White Tiger.
He got one chance to be a man and for that one murder is enough, he convinces himself. Servant betrays the landlord and Ashok knew that retribution would come in and his entire family would be destroyed, but he was willing to make that sacrifice.
Anything to fly the rooster coop! The book is his journey from Munna to Balram to Ashoka Sharma, the entrepreneur. He plays his cards more than well.