Few were expecting to see the name of newcomer Adarsh Gourav, who stars in the Netflix film “The White Tiger,” among the nominees for Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards. He edged out much bigger names to reap a bid at this Oscars precursor and now numbers among the five best male leads in independent cinema along with Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Rob Morgan (“Bull”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”).
The rave reviews for Gourav’s performance in “The White Tiger” should have signalled his recognition by Film Independent. “The White Tiger” is rated 94% fresh by the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes. “The White Tiger” director Ramin Bahrani adapted Aravind Adiga‘s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name.
“The White Tiger” tells the story of Balram Halwai (Gourav), a young boy from a low Indian caste whose wit and intellect gives promise to a future of upward mobility through education only to be stripped from him after his father’s death, forced to remain in his village and take a job in the tea house just to help ends meet for his family. Determined to escape the trappings of life at the bottom of Indian society, Halwai, named a “once in a lifetime white tiger” by a teacher, sets off to Delhi with a plan to be a driver for a wealthy man’s son. Life in the big city among the rich presents Halwai with the opportunity to become an entrepreneur himself as the walls of morality and familial duty quake around him.
The film is centered on the character of Balram. Alonso Duralde (The Wrap) praises “Gourav’s empathetic and charismatic performance that obtains and maintains the audience’s sympathies,” something he says is vital to making the story work. Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly) calls attention to Gourav’s “sheer will and vulnerability,” comparing him to Dev Patel. She observes that he is “frankly devastating” and notes his performance “can either make or break a movie like this.” And in his Wall Street Journal review, Joe Morgenstern calls Gourav “sensational” and says his “range of feelings and moods is like an elite athlete’s range of motion.”