Mukul Deora and Adarsh Gourav, the producer-protagonist duo of the recent Bollywood blockbuster, ‘White Tiger’ which is in a race to win an Oscar and Bafta, speak to Anushka Jagtiani about the trials and triumphs of bringing the ambitious project from silver screen to the global stage
The sordid but strangely empowering tale of Balram Halwai, the protagonist of Arvind Adiga’s book ‘White Tiger’, gripped the imagination of producer Mukul Deora who nurtured his ambition over several years to bring it to life on screen.
The Booker prize winning novel is now an Oscar and Bafta nominated film in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay by Iranian American Director Ramin Bahrani, a college mate of Adiga, who the book is actually dedicated to. Adarsh Gourav who convincingly portrays Balram has also bagged a Bafta nomination in the leading actor category. Excerpts:
There’s a scene in the film where Ashok – Balram’s boss, tells him – You’re the New India, to which he replies ‘I am the New India Sir’. How are you both representative of the New India as far as the film industry is concerned?
Adarsh: This is a great time to be around for anyone creative. Digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon and domestic platforms have opened up so many new doors of opportunities for us. The kind of work that is happening is a lot braver and more experimental. People are willing to take risks. We now don’t have to worry about box office numbers as such. We have to worry about our own craft and focus on that. We have to be confident of who we are and push ourselves and then hope for the best to happen. I am thankful and fortunate that I am around at this point in time and just want to make the most use of it and work with directors and writers who inspire me and be part of stories that are unique and engaging. The new India that we represent is exactly the new India that Balram represents where you dare to dream and you have the resources and opportunities to realise them.
Mukul: This is a movie about a driver killing his master. Last year there was ‘Parasite’, before that ‘Roma’. Why are these stories about uncomfortable truths being made all over the world and are successful? Not just in India.
Because of streamers (Netflix, Amazon) and new forms of media, there is a realisation that there was always a hunger for these stories amongst audiences. I always wanted to hear amazing, true, compelling stories, but because of the system that was there with marketing budgets being so high, and a winner takes all mentality, it was hard for 90 per cent of these movies to break through and to get financed. Now because they are easily viewed by anyone on phones, etc, the audience is lapping it up over the world. ‘White Tiger’ was number one in 61 countries. It’s an amazing story. It really resonated with me.
Mukul, what resonated most with you about this story? Why did you nurture the project for so many years?
It’s a story about freedom…a man wanting to be free. Everyone has something to break free from for growth, something financial, societal etc. If you look at many of the good movies that have been made and are successful, they have taken many years. For example, ‘Life of Pi’. The challenge for me as an Indian filmmaker living in India was that how do I make this story a global sensation. I spent a lot of time in LA and worked really hard. I wanted the world to take notice.
I wanted to break into the international sphere of filmmaking – that was a clear goal of mine. I decided it wouldn’t be an Indian movie and I wanted someone who would bring a global sensitivity. With Ramin Bahrani it was a true collaboration. I remember he said that I read a book better than anyone else. Ramin had actually read drafts of the book before it was published. It was an amazing coincidence and amazing collaboration.
What did the two of you have to break free from?
Mukul: I think we are always breaking free. You have to break free from yourself ultimately.
Adarsh: Fears that all of us have that’s what I want to break all the time. Everything that I fear doing I want to do even more so I feel I have conquered them. I have terrible stage fright even now, I am afraid of talking to a large gathering of people.
It’s a story about how people on the margins of society are treated. Has it had any impact on your personal perspective?
Adarsh: People who come from privilege should be cognizant of that. And be aware and treat people right. If you speak nicely to people or give a little extra money to someone it’s not going to do you any harm.
Mukul: Some people have called after seeing the movie… like my friend’s mother. She said she couldn’t sleep. She said I am a good person, I take care of my staff – but we can do so much more. I am happy that someone has that reaction.
Mukul knew the book by heart, says Director Ramin Bahrani
He (Mukul) is an incredible partner and a wonderful man. Also an established musician in India, an artist, which really helped us click right away. We worked closely for three years together to make the film. He loved the book more than anyone else I had met – he knew it by heart really, line by line – and understood it deeply.