Set in Munabao, a sleepy, parched hamlet near the Rajasthan-Pakistan border, Raj Singh Chaudhary’s Thar is a tribute to American westerns. It has all the usual elements – blood, gore, violence, a barren, indescribable village lost in time, local gangsters, slender village beauties, an aging inspector and a mysterious, brooding stranger. All wonderfully backed by stunning panoramic visuals of remote Rajasthan.
I am a Rajasthani. I was raised in the desert state. I know geography like a native should and yet I looked Shreya Dev Dube’s skillful camera with open-mouthed wonder. Thar’s cinematography is its hero. The parched terrain, the arid hills, the ubiquitous dust and the aridity of it all are so palpable that one feels the acute lack of it. Water, vegetation, humanity. Dubey’s prowess not only provides the right setting for the drama to unfold, it gives the film its true protagonist and thus the title.
The other thing that stands out about Thar is its portrayal of brutality. It’s as wild and shameless as the acts themselves. This Netflix movie is graphically disturbing. Even by the standards of westerns and revenge dramas. Violence begets violence, but beware, this one shows it all – the separation of body parts, the mutilation, the slow torture, the immolation – up close and in distressing detail.
At the heart of it all is Inspector Surekha Singh, a weather-beaten cop six months from retirement, played with inimitable swag by Anil Kapoor. His official rank does not justify his acumen for his work and his spirit to do it well. Dissatisfied with his banal and average career, he wants to go out in style. And soon enough, an opportunity presents itself. There’s a shootout involving cross-border drug trafficking and a local man is found hanging from a tree, inhumanly mutilated. Surekha springs into action.
Chaudhary’s writing and additional screenplay by Yogesh Dabuwalla and Anthony Catino make Surekha a complete man. His scenes with his wife and son are few but not without impact. They keep it from being a trope, a cardboard cutout. This is also true for all the other key characters. Whether it’s Panna from Jitendra Joshi, Chetna’s violent and disturbing husband from Fatima Sana Shaikh or Bhure from Satish Kaushik, the aging and unfit assistant to Surekha who belongs to a lower caste, or Gauri from Mukti Mohan, a feisty young mother, Thar gives them all enough room to flourish.
Except for Harshvarrdhan Kapoor’s Siddharth. There is hardly any dialogue in the film. Of course, his character is impenetrable by design. But he’s so underdeveloped that you find it hard to mourn his loss even after the big reveal. Thar makes you doubt the injustice of it all, but it doesn’t let you into Siddharth’s head or heart. Or even his world. You know so little about him that you feel like a spectator.
If you can’t wait to see the father-son duo Kapoor’s on-screen chemistry, how good or how great they are, you’d be disappointed. Because the movie doesn’t give them much time together. Although this puts them both in Munabao, their paths barely cross, and each time they do, their exchange is superficial, minimal. I would love to see them back together in a movie soon, in roles that make better and more enjoyable use of their off-screen relationship.
In its processing and tonality, Thar will remind you of Abhishek Chaubey’s 2019 film Sonchiriya. Set in Chambal in 1975 (10 years before Thar’s timeline), it revolves around a group of dacoits and features memorable performances by Manoj Bajpayee, Sushant Singh Rajput and Ranvir Shorey. However, in his messaging, Thar draws inspiration from Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur (2015) and Suresh Triveni’s Jalsa, which was released earlier this year. The two films, though they treat the subject very differently, are thought-provoking meditations on the need and futility of revenge.
Thar ends as it begins – with Surekha’s monologue used as the voice-over, first to introduce the setting and finally to settle all the details. In the climactic sequence, he philosophically says, “Badla lene wala hamesha do kabar khodta hai, ek dushman ki, ek apni.” Who can argue with that?
First post: STI