Tag Archives: India

The White Tiger

24 Jan

‘The White Tiger’: Tale of a caste away in India, taking a sudden, dark turn on drive to overcome

By Tom MeekFriday, January 22, 2021

Rahmin Bahrani cut a swath behind the lens with “99 Homes” (2014), a deft take on the subprime mortgage scam and 2008 housing collapse (a year before Adam McKay’s biting, brilliant “The Big Short” made us all feel stupid and complicit while laughing at ourselves), and later failed nobly with his dumbed-down TV version of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian “Fahrenheit 451” (2018) starring Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”). He again plumbs the bittersweet underbelly of the class divide with “The White Tiger,” a tale of caste upward mobility, even if there really isn’t such a thing.

The beast of the title is a rare find emblematic of freedom and the fierceness required to attain and maintain it, and also a metaphor for the film’s protagonist, Balram (Adarsh Gourav), who lives in a poor Indian village where most everything (rent and commerce) lines the pocket of a nabob referred to as “The Stork.” Balram’s big plan is to ingratiate himself to The Stork, get a job as a driver and move his way up – easier said than done in a caste society in which Horatio Alger stories are more fiction than not. Balram lucks out: The Stork’s son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), has newly returned from college in America accompanied by his wife, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), born and raised in the Big Apple. The westernized pair are aware of the class structure but not abusive of its impunity as others are; Balram tags along in dutiful compliance. We and Balram initially seem happy to be in the coddled confines of a New Delhi luxury high-rise, yet there is something darker and deeper lurking at the corners of the drama about haves and have nots, like a stalking tiger biding its time in the underbrush.

Eventually events do tilt, and quite grimly. The material, based on Aravind Adiga’s award-winning 2008 book, tumbles from fairy tale to hapless despair in a quick “Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) hop, and that’s when Balram, backed into a corner, refuses to play the hand he’s dealt. How the rub works its way out becomes a conflict of systemic manipulation from above and of those kicking at the structure’s inequitable supports. It’s something of “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) if infused by Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” (2019), haunting and brutal in its reveal by taking the ideal high life and status quo and turning it inside out with an uncompromising hand. 

Hotel Mumbai

28 Mar

‘Hotel Mumbai’: Caught in a terrorist attack, relying on themselves, each other to survive

By Tom Meek

Image result for hotel mumbai movie


The other day I was talking with some folk about the dark comedic virtues of Peter Bogdanovich’s “Targets,” which was made back in 1968 and clearly inspired by the Charles Whitman shooting spree of 1966. On that fateful Aug. 1, Whitman killed 16 people and shocked a nation that had never seen such carnage (now sadly common). It surfaced in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant antiwar film “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) when R. Lee Ermey’s indelible drill instructor extols the virtue of Whitman’s marksmanship, and two years ago, in the riveting, animated documentary “Tower,” which outlined law enforcement’s inability at the time to deal with such a threat quickly or effectively, resulting in the formation of SWAT and other tactical response units. There’s a similar case in “Hotel Mumbai,” a based-on-real-events drama revolving around a 2008 terrorist attack and ensuing siege at the world-renowned Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. As history and Anthony Maras’ feature debut has it, Mumbai, a city of more than 18 million people, essentially had no response to deal with a handful of well-coordinated extremists armed with assault weapons and a take-no-prisoners mandate.

The film’s a nail-biter, to be sure, and quite effectively paced. We get to know some of the potential victims and heroes intimately, the way we did in Paul Greengrass’ harrowing 9/11 saga, “United 93” (2006). Perhaps to give the film a more international appeal and a Western flavor, much of the action hangs on an American architect named David (Armie Hammer) and his Middle Eastern wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi). Early on, before the shit goes down, the couple joke that they should have left their newborn at home (to enjoy more romantic time together), and probably wish that were so during the attack; they spend much of the hours-long assault separated from the baby, who’s vaulted inside a palatial suite with a rightfully hysterical nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). From the staff side, we imbed with Arjun (Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”), a compassionate waitperson, and the strict but fearless head chef, Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) who runs his kitchen like a military operation. Continue reading