Priyanka Chopra Jonas says she was scrolling through Twitter when she found out Netflix was adapted the 2008 novel “The White Tiger” with filmmaker Ramin Bahrani. The news immediately sparked her creative interests.
“I thought it was hard-hitting and provocative and sarcastic and funny and dark,” Jonas says of the Aravind Adiga book, a winner of the Man Booker Prize. “I remember it was such a page-turner.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
That propulsive energy is faithfully adapted by Bahrani in the new film, out Friday on Netflix following a brief and limited theatrical release. “The White Tiger” stars newcomer Adarsh Gourav as Balram, a lower-class driver employed by a wealthy family who later becomes a prosperous entrepreneur. Told in flashbacks with Balram narrating his rags-to-riches story in letters to a Chinese political leader, “The White Tiger” slowly teases out the lengths Balram had to go to break free from poverty as well as his master, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), and often serves as a searing indictment of the 1 percent.
“The book is a self-reflection on society which is very pivotal and relevant right now — especially after Covid, we’ve seen the divide between the haves and the have nots that’s become so apparent,” Jonas says. She plays the American-born Pinky Madam, Ashok’s wife and a key figure in Balram’s life. “This book is a reflection of how privileged society is desensitized to the rest of the world. How many times have we driven past a homeless shelter and not even thought about it?”
In addition to co-starring in “The White Tiger,” Jonas also serves as an executive producer on the project. According to her, it’s part of a larger goal she has to better diversify Hollywood entertainment.
“The idea is to normalize being able to see a South Asian story on mainstream entertainment, just as normal as it would be to walk past a South Asian in the city you’re in, or meet them in a doctor’s office or wherever,” she says. “That’s what diversity is and it has to be normalized to see different kinds of people in mainstream entertainment. I don’t think a movie like ‘The White Tiger’ would have been with the kind of budget it had five or six years ago. With an Irani director, an all-Indian star cast, shot in India, based on a novel by an Indian person.”
Jonas credits Netflix with the foresight to release the film in 160 countries around the world, giving “The White Tiger” a much larger platform than it would have been afforded with a traditional theatrical rollout even before the coronavirus pandemic upended the moviegoing industry.
“It’s a great time for us to be able to bring diversity to the fore, normalize different kinds of stories, to create a cross-pollination of cultures and entertainment that represents so many different kinds of people. I think it’s a really wonderful time [for that],” she says. “I think having movies which are provocative and interesting and amazing and not be judged as South Asian cinema or a South Asian story but just be seen as a great movie, that’s going to be a big win. That’s the direction I want to walk into.”
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