Thar (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – The film sees Siddharth, an antique dealer’s journey through a remote village in Rajasthan that has recently been rocked by a series of violent killings. As the local cop Surekha Singh investigates these killings he crosses paths with Siddharth… will that encounter be the only one?

My Take – If there is one genre that doesn’t get much love in the Hindi film industry, probably due to their restricted commercial prospects, it’s the neo-western genre, which has birthed some excellent yet rather ignored films like Manorama Six Feet Under (2007), Gulaal (2009), Sonchiriya (2019), and Laal Kaptaan (2019).

In this latest Netflix release, ‘Gulaal’ actor-writer Raj Singh Chaudhary, who turned towards direction with 2021’s Shaadisthan, sets his sophomore film in a similar space with a wholly good-looking production to tell a staple tale of vengeance and violence with a mysterious tough guy at the center of it. But while writer-director Chaudhary purports himself as deadpan western with hints of Sergio Leone and the borderland paranoia of thriller novels, the screenplay fails to keep things completely engaging.

Though he and cinematographer Shreya Dev Dube take full advantage of the location to build an atmosphere of intrigue across the burning sands of the desert, the immersive visual experience just isn’t enough to single-handedly compensate for the predictable plot.

A plot which contains a deliberate air of mystery yet doesn’t add up to much, neither does the excessive blood and gore, the insatiable anger, and the overwhelming sense of the grimness. With stark performances hanging on to every thread, it is disappointing to see the film fizzle out despite a promising set up.

Set in 1985, in Munabao, a small sleepy town situated in Rajasthan just at the Indo-Pak border, the story follows Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor), a veteran police inspector on the verge of retirement, who along with lower cast man Friday Bhura (Satish Kaushik), finds himself dealing with a sudden incursion of banditry and violence from drug runners bringing opium across the border, and investigating strange and macabre acts of violence minus any obvious motivation.

With the needle of suspicion pointing towards Siddharth (Harshavardhan Kapoor), a mysterious antique dealer, who appeared in the village seeking help for his operations, particularly that of Panna (Jitendra Joshi), while renting a room with his lonely and disenchanted wife, Chetna (Fatema Sana Shaikh).

Amidst stylized frames of portrait-ready rustic locals and bleakly arid imagery of the region, this one is a stomach churning violent film that unfolds a dry looking tale of violence and retribution that wants us to speculate if it is about riled smugglers, revenge seekers or ruthless cops who are not above using beatings to get answers to their questions. Western fans will love the aesthetics employed here.

From the long stretches of silence and intrigue to characters trotting about in leather boots with death in their eyes to a bus-stop eatery complete with a portly innkeeper in suspenders, evoking a Wild West saloon. But as the plot moves forward, its limitation holds the film backs from fully living up to its potential and gripping atmospherics.

Though mostly made with gusto and style, it is let down by its failure to lend substance and, hence, reliability, to the perpetrator of the crimes. In a bid to keep the suspense going, director Raj Singh Chaudhary reveals so little about this person so late that it is impossible to feel invested in their motivations and pain. The film wants to be a normal vengeance tale, but doesn’t really know how to execute that idea in the proper way.

A feature of the modern western is its grappling with thorny social or historical issues. This film, in this regard, terribly shortchanges it. The film mentions everything from partition to caste, but in that vacuous, perfunctory way.

Instead due to Shreya Dev Dube’s watchful camerawork, the setting acquires a life of its own. The scorched landscape, captured evocatively by her camera, overshadows the narrative that unfolds in its grim expanse. Criminals, opium smugglers, an antique trader, a pair of policemen and women in their domestic cages people the story, but none of them are as captivating as the eponymous desert itself.

The air of menace and suspense that the film seeks to create does not materialize because nothing that unfolds on the screen, no matter how shocking it is, evokes lasting emotion, which for a dark, supposedly disturbing thriller is disappointing.

The performances are on point. Anil Kapoor, as expected, carries the film on his shoulders all the way. Here, the veteran actor easily sells the wise but beaten inspector, hungry for a promotion and adventure in his usually silent, peaceful town. Harshvardhan Kapoor delivers a restrained performance, and finds himself tackling a role that appears to right up his narrow alley. Satish Kaushik adds a likable doze of humor to the proceedings.

Fatima Sana Shaikh doesn’t quite look like a village belle, but does well as the timid wife who is both sultry and smoldering in turns. In supporting turns, Mukti Mohan, Jitendra Joshi and Rahul Singh are excellent. On the whole, ‘Thar’ is a mildly compelling neo-western thriller that promises much more than it actually delivers.

Directed –

Starring – Anil Kapoor, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Harshvardhan Kapoor

Rated – R

Run Time – 108 minutes

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