Thar has many elements jostling for our attention: a tiny outpost in a border town, a mysterious stranger, a couple of cops, and a series of bodies, draining of life-blood, decaying, dying. But this is one of those films where the setting is the real hero– the ‘marusthal’ (desert) stretching as far as the eye can see, crumbling forts, bare trees providing meagre shade, implacable, hard beauty. This stunning landscape and the haunting soundscape becomes the site of a ‘bawandar’ (storm), as a principal character describes it, which blows everything away in its wake. These sights and sounds of Thar will stay with me, even as I quibble about some of it.
This film would have been called a spaghetti western in the days when Sholay (1975) was released. The filmmakers are aware of how much Thar, set in 1985, reminds us of the OG desi western– a balcony with a woman looking over it, the blazing lights of the desert, the armed men clattering on horses, and the keening violins. And just in case we’ve lost sight of it, Inspector Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor), who likes being explicatory, muses aloud whether it is not about bad guy Gabbar anymore, but maybe Jai and Veeru, or even Basanti, or, you know, Ramlal?
Having believed that he has sufficiently muddied the waters (the dialogues are credited to Anurag Kashyap, who was probably grinning when he penned this and other salty, invective-laden lines in the film) the cop who has stuck to his job without getting a promotion, returns to the job at hand: who is behind the killings?
Like in all good westerns, the needle of suspicion swings towards the near-silent outsider, who frequents a small eatery run by a cheerful fellow in suspenders. Siddharth (Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor) wears ‘khakee’ and ochre, which matches the colours of the film, and criss-crosses the area in a muddy jeep. Who is this guy? Is he really an antique dealer as he claims to be? Or is there something more sinister going on? There are drug growers and smugglers about. Were they the ones responsible for the terrible deeds?
Meanwhile, we are presented with the most grisly, gruesome scenes of violence, bordering on torture porn. And here’s where the film begins to feel excessive: the victims, hanging from the ceiling, blood running out of multiple orifices (I will never be able to see a rat again in the same way), beg for mercy over and over again. By which time we are numb, and past caring. A well-judged mystery reveals its cards at the right time. In Thar, it comes just a little too late. In between, a strand featuring ‘afeem’ (opium) smugglers from Pakistan and their accomplices on the Indian side, is thrown in. But these threads do not really mesh well enough, and the film, despite all its brilliant tech specs, feels underwhelming.
In a place which feels so real, many of the actors appear grafted. The bunch meant to be locals (Jitendra Joshi and Sanjay Bishnoi among them) looks as if they could belong, but even they stand out when placed against the villagers who dot several scenes. Fatima Sana Shaikh makes us aware that she has hidden feelings, but she calls attention, and her garb feels like a costume. And Harsh Varrdhan comes off too impassive even when he is sharing his turmoil. In contrast, Anil Kapoor, though appearing not rustic enough, slides smoothly through the movie, zig-zagging, shooting, cursing fluently: he is the worn, tired moral centre of the movie, and he doesn’t duck a single bullet.
The best performance comes from Satish Kaushik: as the lower caste cop whose uniform is a shield in more ways than one, Bhure is one with the ‘thar’. This is where he came from, and this is where he goes.
Thar movie director: Raj Singh Chaudhary
Thar movie cast: Anil Kapoor, Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Jitendra Joshi, Sanjay Bishnoi, Sanjay Dadhich, Mukti Mohan
Thar movie star rating: 2.5 stars