May 8, 2021

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Indian actor Adarsh Gourav opens up about BAFTAs nod and ‘The White Tiger’


Adarsh Gourav ​as ​Balram​ ​in ‘The White Tiger’.
Image Credit: Tejinder Singh Khamkha/Netflix

Indian actor Adarsh Gourav was relatively obscure until Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ celebrated film ‘The White Tiger’ premiered on Netflix. But soon after the film, a strong indictment on India’s class and caste system released, Gourav gained instant adulation. He played a driver named Balram Halwai who beats the odds to become an entrepreneur. Apart from the rave reviews, he has been nominated for the Best Actor award at the upcoming BAFTAs, due to be held on April 10 and 11. So how important is winning that award, we ask Gourav. But the 26-year-old sensation has a pragmatic take.

“I don’t think it’s important for me to win any award as such. What is important for me is to be part of good films and work with good directors. Of course, when you win any or get nominated for any award, it means more opportunities for work and I am all for it,” said Gourav over a Zoom call.

“But at end of the day, I am here to work as an actor and I am here to do good work, enjoy myself. I want to be a part of stories that engage. But I am truly grateful for everything that has happened,” said Gourav.

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‘The White Tiger’ is the toast of the festival circuit and has also got an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

“I have more faith in the film than my acting capabilities … But I am very grateful for all the attention and the nominations. But I don’t want to be distracted by these things,” said Gourav.

He’s up against the likes of seasoned actors such as Anthony Hopkins (‘The Father) and late Chadwick Boseman (‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’) at the BAFTAs, being held in London. Personally, he’s rooting for Hopkins.

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The self-made actor was chosen by director Ramin Bahrani after an exacting audition.

“I have been his fan since I was 14 or 15 … He’s so amazing. When he is up on stage and he collects an award, it’s one more to his collection. He’s a legend,” said Gourav.

The self-made actor was chosen by director Ramin Bahrani after an exacting audition. Excerpts from our interview with Gourav …

Q: Congratulations on your BAFTA nod for the Best Actor. You are up against actors such as Anthony Hopkins and late Chadwick Boseman … Your thoughts before the big day.

A: It feels amazing to be nominated among people that you have grown up watching and you were so inspired by. You have spoken about them all your life and about having their body of work someday. So, it’s just incredible that I can read my name next to them it almost feels like an accident. But I feel fortunate for being a part of ‘The White Tiger’.

Q: The BAFTAs are being appreciated for better representation of ethnic minorities in its nominations …

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A: For sure! It’s also the fact we have platforms like Netflix and Amazon which make content accessible to any person in any part of the world. Half the people who connected with me on ‘The White Tiger’ on social media are people from other countries. We constitute 40 to 50 per cent of the world’s population. It’s liberating to see many of us now getting films that tell stories about South Asians. It’s important and it feels great that it’s happening … And actors like Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra paved the way for us to make inroads into the global stage. Their journey has been so much more difficult as they did not have OTT platforms like Netflix … They have done all the hard work and I am reaping the award for it.

Q: Do you have any process as an actor?

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A: I don’t have any process as yet … But if I am playing someone of the big screen I don’t want to just read lines off a page and I should be able to bring more to the table. It’s important for me to do the legwork, but I don’t like making a big deal out of it. But I don’t want any role to be a mimicry or sorts. I wanted Balram to be an authentic portrayal.

Q: Is it true that you read Aravind Adiga’s award-winning novel ‘The White Tiger’ when you were 13? It’s a remarkably young age to read that tome …

A: I didn’t understand the nuances. I just understood that there is a boy called Balram and this is his journey. But when I re-read the book after this project, I looked at it from a different lens. Now I truly understand what Adiga was talking about and his strong sociopolitical commentary. Balram is so sarcastic and snide.

Q: Balram Halwai is one of the most complex characters written in cinema recently. You are unsure whether to hate him or admire him for his grit?

A: It’s not up to me about what the audience should feel or understand or what they want … But his reasons for what he is doing in his life stems from his family background and his reality. I wanted to understand his truth … Director Ramin Bahrani is an absolute magician. He’s a genius and from the time I got cast for the film, he just let me run with it. Since I read the book, I had a basic premise of what Balram was like. But he asked me to find my own truth and explore. He asked me to make mistakes, but to keep searching. And that’s where his greatness lies. I spent so much time as Balram in the village working at a tea stall or roaming at the streets of Delhi. We just tried to understand what the scene is about.

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Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

Q: While the film was celebrated universally, a section of the viewers and critics thought the film pandered to the Western gaze? What do you want to tell those critics and were you worried?

A: No, I wasn’t worried. Look, when somebody who is not Indian is going to direct something which has Indian context, people are obviously going to talk about it. But what you have to understand is that Ramin has been a part of this story more than any of us. He was Aravind Adiga’s batchmate in Columbia. Ramin helped him write the book and it’s literally dedicated to him. Also, Ramin is Iranian and his father migrated from Iran to America. There are lots of cultural similarities between Iran and India. In fact, a lot of scenes from ‘The White Tiger’ are improvised and inspired from what Ramin’s father went through in his life. For example, that scene where Balram is counting the number of floors when he comes to Delhi is something that his father did when he came to America for the first time. When something is good, four among ten people may feel it wasn’t good or they will nitpick. It’s a part of human tendency. But it’s important to talk about every point of view. There’s no fun if everyone felt the same way. It’s only interesting when people have different opinions and different perspectives because it opens up room for discussion.

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Don’t miss it!

‘The White Tiger’ is available to stream on Netflix in the UAE.