Everyone loves a good underdog story. But Netflix’s new drama, The White Tiger, is a rags-to-riches flick with nuance that resists the typical narrative of a poor protagonist finally getting rewarded for his goodness. Instead, the film, set in modern-day India, follows the unorthodox trajectory of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a successful entrepreneur who looks back on his path as a jagged one. “In my country, it pays to play it both ways,” he says at one point in the film. “The Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, all at the same time.” Born in the small coal-mining village of Laxmangarh, Balram is seemingly destined to be stuck in poverty forever, a cooped-up rooster just whiling his time away until his death. But his charm and ingenuity ultimately save him, earning him a job as a driver for a wealthy landlord known as The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) — or more specifically, The Stork’s son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas).
But even though The White Tiger is already being compared to 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, it’s perhaps more apt to compare the Ramin Bahrani-helmed film to last year’s Oscar winner, Parasite. Class tensions run rampant, and Balram’s duality proves that it takes more than goodness to rise to the top. Here, get to know who’s who in the wild ride that is The White Tiger.