‘The White Tiger’: Ramin Bahrani turned his friend Aravind Adiga’s novel into a hit film some 30 years after they met

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The new Netflix movie “The White Tiger” is based on the darkly comic novel of the same name, which follows the rise of Balram, a clever servant played by Adarsh Gourav.  Gourav was recently nominated for Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards. 

Born in poverty, Balram talks his way into a job as a driver, though he doesn’t know how to drive. He gets past that, and for a time Balram thinks he is living the dream because he managed to get hired by a wealthy family. But eventually, he starts to want much more. He sets about reinventing himself as a successful businessman in booming Bangalore. 

“The White Tiger” is a story about India's deeply entrenched class system, and it veers between light and darkness. 

"The White Tiger" author Aravind Adiga. Photo by Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail. 

Author Aravind Adiga won the prestigious Booker Prize for “The White Tiger,” his first novel, in 2008. He was sending his friend, filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, drafts of the story as far back as 2004 as Bahrani was working on his first film, “Man Push Cart.”  He went on to make movies including “Chop Shop” and “99 Homes.” 

Today, the pandemic has pushed Adiga and Bahrani to opposite corners of the world. Bahrani lives in New York, and while Adiga normally lives in India, he was in Australia when lockdowns began last year. He remains there today, unable to leave. 

When they came together for this chat, Bahrani remembered how they first crossed paths as students at Columbia University in the 1990s. Adiga recalls one very serious screening of “Mean Streets,” where Bahrani kept pausing the film to point out jump cuts and other filmmaking techniques. Most students got bored and walked out, but Adiga was fascinated. 

The two friends talk about how they’ve supported each other’s work over the years, and explain why it took more than a decade to turn “The White Tiger” into a movie. 

Bahrani dives into some of the details of the film, including how Priyanka Chopra Jonas got involved, and why he slipped in that little bit of shade at “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Adiga explains why it means so much to him that the film is successful in India, according to Netflix. Bahrani says he’s moved by seeing pictures of people watching his film all over the world, but admits it’s strange that he still hasn’t seen his own movie in a theater, or watched it with anyone besides his immediate family.




Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker