January 20, 2021 – Conflict in this film caused by income inequality in India is on steroids due to India's traditional class structure. The dangers inherent in class divisions is the subject of this gritty crime drama.
Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga, this movie is about a servant who becomes a criminal and an entrepreneur after enduring grinding poverty and enormous pressure from his family and his employers. His rise to power comes at great moral cost.
Balram Halwai (played by Adarsh Gourav) shows great promise as a child, and is offered a scholarship to attend a good school, but his grandmother (played by Kamlesh Gill) the matriarch of his family, forbids him to go because he is needed to work in family's tea shop.
Years later, still breaking up coal for the tea shop stove, he overhears a customer say that a rich local family needs a driver. He persuades his grandmother to give him the cash he needs for driving school. The funny madcap driving lesson gives clues to the fact that driving in India is a lot different than driving in the U.S.
Balram gets the driving job and discovers that the number one driver, who has been with the family for years, is secretly a Muslim. Balram uses that information against him. It is the first indication of how far Balram is willing to go to become successful.
Balram becomes the driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), the son of a corrupt local businessman. Ashok, educated in America, is married to Pinky (Priyanka Chopra of “Baywatch”) who is a feminist. Pinky, raised in America, doesn't get along with the rest of Ashok's family.
Although Ashok and Pinky treat Balram well, he is constantly reminded that he is not their equal. He is a servant who must do whatever he is asked, including taking the blame for a fatal accident caused by Pinky, who was driving drunk after a party. Not only does Ashok's family force him to sign a false statement about the accident, Balram's own family goes along with this injustice.
Ashok's family goes even farther, holding this document over him as a lever for power. Balram can't tell the authorities the truth because the family coal business he works for is a criminal organization which employs thugs who will kill him, and his whole family.
Balram is trapped by these circumstances, but eventually he is pushed too far, and he strikes back. He stops being a chicken and becomes a tiger. He becomes a successful businessman, but at a terrible cost to himself and others.
This movie, along with “Nuevo orden” (2020) from Mexico, are both effective cautionary tales about the inherent danger posed by extreme income inequality and corruption. This is a danger in American society as well, but nobody is paying attention, yet. This film rates a B.
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