Director: Raj Singh Chaudhary
Writers: Raj Singh Chaudhary, Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Satish Kaushik, Jitendra Joshi, Mukti Mohan
Cinematography: Shreya Dev Dube
Streaming on: Netflix
Thar directed by Raj Singh Chaudhary is more interesting to talk about than watch. There’s a lot to marvel at but the film is tedious to watch. It is a western noir film set in 1985 in Munabao village in Rajasthan near the Indo-Pak border. A villager is mutilated and hung by a tree. Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor) is the inspector accompanied by his deputy Bhure (Satish Kaushika), investigating the murder. There’s also a family murdered and stuff looted from their house. At first, Surekha finds it difficult to fathom that both murders are linked. He tells Bhure using a Sholay analogy that the culprit may not be the obvious villain Gabbar Singh, it could be Thakur, Jai, Veeru, or even Basanti.
That suspicion plays out as Siddharth (Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor) walks into the sleepy village seeking a few men to do ‘a job’. Siddharth says that he collects antiques and sells them. The village is known for opium smuggling across the border led by a Pakistani ex-soldier (Rahul Singh). Surekha suspects that Siddharth could be a participant in that trade as well. There’s also Chetna (Fatima Sana Shaikh), the wife of Panna (Jitendra Joshi), one of the men Siddharth recruits for the job. The struggle to find the middle of all this is evident in the narrative. The film starts and ends with Surekha’s voice-over trying to summarize the story. This voice-over and the Sholay analogy talk more about the film than the film’s narrative does. Abhishek Chaubey’s masterpiece Sonchiriya (2019) often comes to mind.
But, as I said, there’s a lot to marvel at. We seldom get a Western thriller in Indian cinema, so there’s that. It serves as a good palette cleanser after having watched many over-the-top action movies and so-called ‘content-driven’ films. The director and cinematographer use the space to perfection. When Thar is in the outdoors and has wide shots, every frame is a painting. It takes you to a different world. Thar starts as a copout drama and turns into a rape-revenge noir; which is fine by me. I like stories that keep evolving and revealing something till the end. What’s the point of watching a 2-hour film when the first 30 minutes give you a fair idea of how everything might turn out?
The performances are good. Anil Kapoor as the veteran cop during his sunset months on the job is every bit a ‘star performance’. He is remarkable in Surekha’s scenes with his wife (Nivedita Bhattacharya). Those scenes perfectly summarize Surekha’s journey. Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor has a more difficult task on his hands. Playing a broken, revenge seeker could go OFF if the actor is ON it. Harsh manages the craft of ‘less is more’ well. Fatima Sana Shaikh makes her eyes tell her story in every frame that she is in. This coming after a forgettable Ajeeb Daastans is reassuring of her talent. Satish Kaushik takes to the character of Bhure as fish takes to water. It’s always a pleasure to see him perform. I particularly like Jitendra Joshi as Panna; a misogynist wife-beater who is a product of his space. There’s nothing likable about him. But he is better than another actor in the frame even when he is being tortured to death.
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Thar aspires to touch upon many things while striving to stay in the Western Noir genre. There’s caste politics, gender politics, and of course class. Surekha has to take orders from his seniors at work who are half his age. Bhure in the film’s best line “Vardi mein jaat chhup jati hai”, says a lot about caste and power dynamics in the country. Come to think of it, the film is smartly set in a village near the Indo-Pak border. We’re in a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere. The village and its villagers struggle for their identity, still suffering from the divide and rule politics of the British by developing our own politics of caste.
If you look at Thar separately w.r.t various aspects of filmmaking, a lot will impress you. But somehow the writer-director struggles to maintain consistency. The climax leaves Siddharth’s back story at a loose end. We know what made him seek revenge but we don’t know anything else about him. Some of the violent scenes would be difficult to watch but the rest of the movie, however tedious, can make for a one-time viewing.