Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger is reportedly the number one movie on Netflix in 64 countries around the world, having been seen by 27 million households in its first four weeks. What’s more, aside from being tweeted about by everyone from Cardi B to Kerry Washingston, lead actor Adarsh Gourav has been nominated for Best Male Lead at the Film Independent Spirit Awards alongside actors like Riz Ahmed and Chadwick Boseman. Following the film’s thunderous success, producer Mukul Deora speaks to us about why it’s resonating with people around the world, the power of Netflix and the criticisms against the film
The White Tiger is reportedly number one on Netflix in 64 countries. Are you surprised by the sheer level of response to the film around the world?
Mukul: Well no one expects their movie to be the number one film worldwide on Netflix. I think that’s something that you can’t really expect. So, I am surprised and humbled by it, but I also have to say that we worked really hard making this. What resonated with me in the book was the versatility of the story of a man and how he wants to be free. And I feel on some level everyone has to fight to be free, whether it’s on an economic level or a familial level or societal level, everyone has something to break through. Freedom is such an intrinsic human need, and yet the price of freedom is so high for a lot of people all over the world. I think the first thing that anyone connects to in a story is the character of Balram. You empathise with him and you understand his journey to becoming a free man and the price of that. So, I think all the hard work we put in to make a universal story has paid off.
There’s been so many big names tweeting and raving about it from Ariana Grande to Kerry Washington. Is there one specific person or piece of praise that surprised you most?
Mukul: I would say more than one. I got a lot of messages from a lot of people who’d seen the movie and while a lot of people generally said ‘we loved the movie’, quite a few people wrote to me saying how this really made them think about how they view people who work for them and the power structures in society today. For me, that was the most powerful and gratifying thing, rather than any one person saying it.
What do you make of the criticism it’s getting about its outsider’s perspective of India?
Mukul: Everyone has their own opinion. I mean, you can’t make everyone happy. Honestly I’m just happy that overall the response has been very positive and it has resonated with many people in the world. Not everyone can like the art that you create, and that’s fine.
It’s rare that an Indian story gets this much buzz around the world. Would you say that’s due to the power of Netflix putting global stories on the map?
Mukul: Netflix is definitely an instrumental and vital partner in this whole process, there’s no question. This is an all brown cast, and that hasn’t happened before I think. As producer, I’m a creative person but I also have to look at the commercial side of it which is the distribution of the movie. So, for example, years ago when it was just me and the book, I was choosing a creative team, which is Ramin, the actors, the crew etc. That, and protecting and nurturing that story so that it comes out authentic to the book.
But along with that was this commercial side, which is that I felt very strongly that the world will want to watch this thing that we’re making. So, who do we get as a partner to make that happen? And this was 3-4 years ago, where Netflix just started in India, so it wasn’t a given the way it is today. And I remember clearly thinking at the time that they are the people who can take this movie into everyone’s living room, more than anyone else. Would it be possible without Netflix? Obviously not. But any story that travels the world is a mix of the story itself, the creative vision and team behind it, and of course the distribution mechanism that enables it to be seen by everyone.