LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21 (UPI) — The new Netflix original film, The White Tiger, is based on the novel by Aravind Adiga. However, the star, Adarsh Gourav, found he had several qualities in common with his character, Balram, a boy from a poor village who becomes a wealthy family’s driver.
Balram has a habit of naming people in his life after animals like The Mongoose and The Stork and has earned the nickname White Tiger for his ambition and potential. That surprised Gourav when he read the book.
“That was something I did as a kid,” Gourav told UPI in a phone interview. “I would look at every person I met and think about some animal.”
In the caste system of India, Gourav’s character sees working for the wealthy as an opportunity. He becomes a driver for the family of the landlord he calls The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar).
Balram begins as the second driver, but schemes his way into the first driver’s position. He becomes the primary driver of The Stork’s son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife, Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra).
When Balram takes the blame for a hit and run caused by a drunk driving Pinky Madam, he realizes he holds some power over Ashok’s family. Balram rises in the caste system from his humble beginnings, but Balram’s opportunities cross over into some criminal activities.
Gourav got his own opportunities in life around the same age as Balram did. The 26-year-old actor grew up in the small town of Jamshedpur, but moved to Bombay in 2007. Gourav said Balram reminded him of people he observed on the outskirts of Jamshedpur.
“I had seen a lot of poverty,” Gourav said. “I had seen a lot of people around me who were just like Balram.”
To research the village in which Balram grew up, Gourav spent two weeks in Chalkari Basti.
After that, he worked on a food cart, gaining new appreciation for the kind of labor Balram did before he became Ashok’s driver.
“Only when I worked there for two weeks did I actually realize how hard it is,” Gourav said. “These couple of things really helped me understand Balram’s world and where he was coming from since I partially lived it.”
Balram’s duties require more than just driving. He also washes the car, and ends up massaging The Stork’s feet. Gourav related to this, too.
“I’ve been massaging my father’s back since I was a kid,” Gourav said.
Gourav’s father was a banker who came home from the office with knots in his back, the actor remembered. When he was a little kid, Gourav said, he walked on his father’s back to get the knots out.
“I’ve never learned chiropractic professionally, but I give great back massages,” Gourav said.
Balram’s specialty of leg and foot massage also was in Gourav’s wheelhouse. He said his grandparents used to request those.
“I put oil on their legs and then gave them a nice massage on their calves, stretch their ankles,” Gourav said. “It wasn’t something out of the ordinary for me to do.”
Gourav’s career in the arts began two years after his family moved to Bombay. He was a singer in a stage show when offered his first audition at age 15.
The first film in which Gourav acted was 2010’s My Name Is Khan, playing the teenage version of the title character who was played as an adult by Shah Rukh Khan.
Films like Madly, Mom and Rukh followed, and then TV series Die Trying, Leila and Hostel Daze. Gourav had been concerned about a dry spell in his career when he landed the audition for The White Tiger.
“My only goal was to give a good audition and interest the casting director so she would call me for another audition later,” Gourav said. “I didn’t even imagine that I would get cast as Balram.”
Ramin Bahrani adapted The White Tiger and directed the film. Bahrani taught Gourav a new way of working in film, too.
“He doesn’t say action or cut,” Gourav said. “He just says, ‘Whenever you’re ready.’
Traditionally, directors call action to begin a scene, and cut when the actors and crew can stop. Gourav never questioned it before, but now he likes Bahrani’s technique.
“Action and cut were two words that he feels make the whole process really inauthentic,” Gourav said. “It wasn’t until now that I realized they were inauthentic.”
If Netflix subscribers like his performance, Gourav hopes they seek out some of his Indian shows and movies. He also hopes other filmmakers take notice.
“I’m excited for all the doors that hopefully open because of this project,” Gourav said. “I’m excited to work with filmmakers who inspire me, filmmakers who have a distinct voice and who want to experiment and say something.”
The White Tiger premieres Friday on Netflix.