Image Credits: NetflixMore than a decade after Aravind Adiga's novel The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the person featured on its dedication page, Iranian-American film director Ramin Bahrani, ended up helming its cinematic adaptation. And Bahrani had just one instruction for Tess Joseph, the film’s casting director, while scouting for actors: “Show me your best and most real actors”. The Netflix film The White Tiger released on January 22, with a cast including Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkumar Rao and Adarsh Gourav, and, according to an announcement by Chopra Jonas, became the No 1 film on the platform in 64 countries in the first four weeks, and was viewed by 27 million households. What it has also done is catapult 26-year-old Gourav, a newcomer in the world of big cinema, into the nomination lists of some of the most prestigious global awards. He has been nominated for the Best International Actor-Cinema of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, is on the longlist for the Best Leading Actor category of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, and is the first Indian to be nominated in the Best Male Lead category of the Film Independent Spirits Awards (late Irrfan Khan was nominated for Best Supporting Male Actor for his role in Mira Nair's The Namesake in 2007). Gourav says it feels surreal to find his name alongside the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hanks, Gary Oldman and late Chadwick Boseman. But if you ask Joseph, he had shown potential from his very first audition. “Adarsh’s very first audition had promise. He was cheeky yet naïve; he felt like he 'belonged' to the world. He listens, he invests in instructions but also makes brave choices when asked to do a wild take,” she says. “For the film’s voiceover, he was one of the last few actors we had tested, and we were meeting many options. When I uploaded the tapes to Ramin, I left him a note saying 'watch this one. I liked him'."
***Gourav had started acting when he was 13. Auditioning was mostly a weekend activity, and eventually landed him the role of a young Rizwan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan's character) in Karan Johar's My Name Is Khan (2013). However, he claims he never thought of being an actor in later years, and that it was only while acting in a film called Banana in Jamshedpur that Gourav was bitten by the acting bug. “When I played the character of Joyjeet Ganguly [in Banana], I had never before experienced anything like that. It was cathartic for me to get to know another person so intimately—a person that only existed on pages. Bringing that to life was a unique experience. That is when I started enjoying the craft.” After his family moved from Jamshedpur to Mumbai, Gourav attended Drama School for a year, went to theatre workshops, recorded voiceovers and character dubs, acted in advertisements, web series (Hostel Daze and Leila) and films (Rukh and Mom). “I am very fortunate to be doing this for a living. To be able to make money by telling stories."
***A still from The White Tiger, starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkumar Rao and Adarsh Gourav
Image Credits: NetflixThe White Tiger's success has given Gourav more confidence, and he believes it will bring him opportunities to audition for the right roles, read the right scripts, and engage with filmmakers he has always wanted to work with. Joseph believes this is just the beginning of Gourav’s journey as an actor. As a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, she says, “The world has spoken and I echo that: Adarsh has captured the attention of the world and some of the best critics, and [he] stands his own alongside the best actors of 2020.” The Film Independent Spirit awards, for which Gourav has been nominated in the Best Male Lead category, is considered to be the Oscars for movies made on a budget less than $20 million. Past winners have gone on to win the Oscars for Best Picture. For example, The Artist (2011), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Birdman (2014), Spotlight (2015), and Moonlight (2016). “I almost don't want to believe it,” says Gourav, referring to the nominations. “But I am hoping that these things give me an opportunity to work with the kind of directors I want to work with. I think any award or any recognition is just a way forward for a storyteller—whether it is an actor, a producer or a writer.”