January 18, 2021
As a new drama about India’s caste system shows, films about the upper crust and their downstairs domestics are often surprisingly subversive
Serve the servants: why cinema loves to play with class stereotypes
“India is two countries in one,” our hero Balram observes in The White Tiger: there is an India of light, preserve of the rich and powerful; and an India of darkness, where millions toil in poverty. The White Tiger is a vivid study of caste and servility, as Balram (Adarsh Gourav) ingratiates his way into the service of a wealthy family, until he realises he is consigned to reside in the darkness. “And don’t believe for a second there’s a million-rupee gameshow you can win to get out of it,” he says, in a dig at that other fantasy of Indian class mobility, Slumdog Millionaire. There is rarely a magical mechanism by which people are lifted out of poverty, but the movies are often happy to peddle that notion.
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