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'You just wanted to get that guy into a film'

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Adarsh Gourav and director Ramin Bahrani, discuss The White Tiger, about an Indian driver who escapes poverty


New film: Adarsh Gourav as Balram, Priyanka Chopra as Pinky Madam and Rajkummar Rao as Ashok in The White Tiger

New film: Adarsh Gourav as Balram, Priyanka Chopra as Pinky Madam and Rajkummar Rao as Ashok in The White Tiger

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New film: Adarsh Gourav as Balram, Priyanka Chopra as Pinky Madam and Rajkummar Rao as Ashok in The White Tiger

Priyanka Chopra Jonas admits her new film, The White Tiger, will make viewers feel uncomfortable. But it's also the reason why she felt the story - set in India and about the rise of a poor villager named Balram, who becomes a successful entrepreneur - was one that needed to be told.

As the 38-year-old suggests, "We've become so desensitised to the life that a huge population of the world (is living) without any options or choices".

"Their birthright dictates their future. Coming from a family that has given me options and given me an ability to have a voice in my own life, it really made me uncomfortable, Balram's journey, and made me root for him - and that's what I felt when I read the book," says the India-born actress, who married musician Nick Jonas in 2018.

The White Tiger is based on the New York Times best-seller and 2008 Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, by Aravind Adiga.

When Chopra Jonas, a major star in Bollywood who's also famous for US drama Quantico, learned the book was being adapted for the screen, she knew she wanted to be involved.

"I kind of chased after it and offered my services to attach to the movie because it's just something that the world needs to see," she continues.

"You know, novelists in history have always had the tough task of writing stories that self-examine the inherent tensions in society - and this (The White Tiger) is one of those.

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"Aravind Adiga did such a great job of telling a story that is so universal but specifically based in the Indian class divide."

The plot follows Balram (Adarsh Gourav), an ambitious young hero, as he gets a job as a driver for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and Pinky (Chopra-Jonas), who have just returned from America.

Balram makes himself indispensable to the pair, with society training him to be one thing alone - a servant.

However, we see him decide to rebel after a betrayal makes him realise just how far his masters will go to trap him and save themselves.

The feature was directed by Ramin Bahrani, who has been close friends with Adiga since they were at college together.

Because of his relationship with the author, the Iranian-American filmmaker (45) was been reading The White Tiger almost four years before it was published.

"From the first time I read it, I was just kind of blown away," he recalls. "The book jumps out of your hands, especially the lead character, Balram, this poor kid from a village who grows up to be a successful entrepreneur by doing some very strange things.

"He's just so electric, alive, sarcastic and satirical. His observations are so witty and bizarre. You just wanted to get that guy into a movie."

The White Tiger is Bahrani's seventh feature film, almost all of which, he notes, "have somehow dealt with issues of social inequality or other types of pressure - how underdogs or underclass or immigrant characters feel".

"So, in that way, I found the film to be very thematically at home to me in what interests me in the world," he says.

"It's not every day you see a movie about the servant and really get it in a non-romantic way from their perspective."

What struck Gourav was how universal the story was and the fact that "it's very relatable".

"I was getting to play two very diverse characters, both of which represented what India is: an India of light and an India of darkness. But that's also representing what the entire world is," he explains.

"There's always two sections of society that you always get to see, and this is what drew me to the film."

A story that is set in India but also gets a global film airing on a worldwide platform like Netflix still feels like a rare thing.

"We're one fifth of the world's population, but you don't see that representation in one fifth of the movies made or television made in global entertainment," agrees Chopra-Jonas.

"I think it's extremely important and it's truly a quest - for me, as a producer - to align with south Asian stories where I can and to push a representation where I can because there are many places that you can't do it."

"I think with this film, it will be a big source of encouragement for film-makers from all over the world to come forward and share their own stories from their own countries that will perhaps resonate with the rest of the world," adds Gourav.

Bahrani has already been encouraging this, having recently started producing movies for up-and-coming young film-makers.

He mentions working on a film in Brazil called Socrates, by the "amazing young director" Alexandre Moratto.

"We just completed his new film that's coming this year, also shot in Brazil," he says.

"We have a young man, a Maltese-American director who was my assistant director for many years, and he has a brilliant new film called Luzzu, about fishermen in Malta, shot with real fishermen, that is premiering at the Sundance world competition."

The White Tiger is available to watch on Netflix now

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