The cast of upcoming Netflix film The White Tiger includes some of Indian cinema’s biggest stars, with Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas both taking on key supporting roles in the adaptation of Aravaind Adigar’s novel.
But the character at the very centre of the story, Balram Halwai, is played by a far less familiar face: relative newcomer Adarsh Gourav.
And according to the film’s director, it was very important to cast an unknown actor in the lead role, with Ramin Bahrani explaining that he passed up the opportunity to have a more established actor take on the part.
“I had an opportunity to talk with a lot of actors, stars that you might know, Bollywood stars who are all incredible,” he explained to RadioTimes.com. “But at a certain point, while I was in India, I felt that the lead actor should be from India and preferably unknown.
“I just felt it matched the character and the story of an underdog,” he went on. “I didn’t want to see a rich successful actor playing the part of that underclass underdog who’s going to do something crazy in the film. And Adarsh just blew me away in the audition!”
Bahrani added that Gourav was “really inspiring on set” and explained that he had the perfect blend of qualities needed for the character.
“He has this great winning smile, he’s very charming and you like him immediately. But if you don’t pay attention and you look at him again he’s got a laser on you and you don’t know what he might do – and I needed that duality,” he said.
For his part, Gourav revealed that he had been a big fan of the book when he read it back in 2008 – but didn’t imagine for a moment that he would one day play the character.
“I just found it incredibly funny and engaging and so relatable,” he said of the novel. “Because it’s set in India, it’s set in a small town and I grew up in a small town as well.
“And also Balram’s commentary that keeps happening throughout the book and the way he compares the people in the village to animals – I could relate to this as well because I had that habit as a child when I thought every human being has a spirit animal, and I would often look at a person and imagine what is the closest animal that this person resembles.”
Explaining how he managed to land the part, he added, “I got a call to audition for the film and at that point in time, not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would get the part.
“I just went in for the audition thinking that hopefully I’ll give a good audition and the casting director will call me for something else in the future, and five rounds later and a month later Ramin called me from New York and said we want you to play Balram. It just felt so surreal and incredible.”
While Gourav had to go through several rounds of auditions, his co-star Priyanka Chopra Jonas had a very different route to appearing in the film – with the A-lister serving as an executive producer alongside her acting credit.
But she too had been a huge fan of the book when she read it after its publication and was similarly enthusiastic about playing a part in bringing the story to the screen.
“I remember not being able to put [the book] down and I remember being profoundly moved by it,” she said. “And when I read on Twitter – I was reading one of these trade magazines as I do every morning – that The White Tiger was being made by Netflix I got my agents to call them and offer my services as an EP and an actor.”
She added: “I was looking personally for a very immersive experience, I’d just come out of a network TV show and I was looking for a dramatic part, something that made me uncomfortable – and this checked all my boxes.”