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The Real Reason It Took So Long To Make The White Tiger Into A Movie

Conventional wisdom holds that the first thing you need to make a good film is a good story. Check one box then for Netflix's The White Tiger. The movie is based on the debut novel of the same name by the author and journalist Aravind Adiga, which won the Man Booker Prize, one of English literature's most prestigious awards, in 2008.

Next, you need to get a talented filmmaker interested in adapting the story to the screen. The White Tiger has that in Ramin Bahrani, director of the acclaimed Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and 99 Homes. Bahrani has such a long history with the novel –– he and Adiga became friends while attending Columbia University –– that he's thanked in its pages, according to the The Associated Press.

Then, add some star power; that always helps. Priyanka Chopra Jonas was so moved by the novel that when she heard an adaptation was in the works, she had her agents call and volunteer her services in whatever manner they could best make use of her — whether that be to appear in it or to produce it so she could use her platform to promote it. She ended up doing both.

And yet, even with all these elements falling into place over time, it still took more than a decade to get the film off the ground. As Bahrani puts it, nobody wanted to invest the kind of money the story needed to do it justice. 

"It's an epic story that required a lot of financing and money and resources to get it made in India," Bahrani told The Associated Press. "That wasn't so easy when the novel came out." He added that studios were reluctant to come on board; the rags-to-riches story of The White Tiger might have had a global appeal, but its global setting made it a tougher sell in the U.S., especially considering that it didn't have any superheroes in it.

How The White Tiger found its way to Netflix

Thankfully, the film finally found a willing partner in Netflix. The streaming giant's interest in offering to its users projects that span all genres and come from all territories has pushed it to acquire more and more international projects. "They have an appetite for global stories, for voices that are not typically represented behind a camera or in front of the camera," Bahrani said. 

Prior to securing The White Tiger, Netflix had already adapted one of Adiga's novels for the screen, making a 12-episode series in Hindi out of the author's 2016 novel Selection Day, about a pair of brothers pushed toward cricket stardom by their obsessed father.

The White Tiger stars actor and singer Adarsh Gourav as Balram Halwai, a poor villager who wheedles his way into the service of wealthy couple Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Chopra Jonas) as their driver. His new employers take him out of his home and into a world where the divisions of the country are thrown into sharp relief — due to not only the still-present legacy of the caste system, but also the economic stratification of modern-day capitalism.

Thanks to The White Tiger's inclination to point out the iniquities and hypocrisies of its Indian setting, comparisons to 2008's Oscar darling Slumdog Millionaire have been inevitable. But the description provided by Netflix makes it sound thematically closer to another modern Best Picture winner, 2019's Parasite: "Society has trained Balram to be one thing — a servant — so he makes himself indispensable to his rich masters. But after a night of betrayal, he realizes the corrupt lengths they will go to trap him and save themselves. On the verge of losing everything, Balram rebels against a rigged and unequal system to rise up and become a new kind of master."

Balram's journey becomes one across these divisions in his homeland –– urban and rural, rich and poor, predator and prey –– from what he calls in the novel "the Darkness" of his status into the light of a new cachet. What will he do in order to get there? Who will he be when he finally does?

The White Tiger premieres on Netflix on January 22.