Thar Review: Lots of Style, but Little Substance

POV

Thar Review: Lots of Style, but Little Substance

Illustration: Arati Gujar

There are few Hindi films set in the parched, burning, yet remarkable landscape of the Thar desert in Rajasthan. It’s not a space where fiction thrives easily, mostly due to its punishing weather that makes it difficult to shoot. This is reason enough to watch Netflix’s new film Thar which is an 80s revenge saga set in the dunes of the northwestern desert range. However, the visual landscape really does become the only reason you’d want to watch this 90-min neo-western tale.  As a film, Thar is stylish and stunning and there’s absolutely no doubt that cinematographer Shreya Dev Dube has given us a visual masterpiece. There’s no other film that has captured the great Indian desert with the dream-like nuance that she and her team has. But, Thar also poses as a grim and gritty story of human vengeance, and sadly the visuals do not save the dreary plot.

As a film, Thar is stylish and stunning and there’s absolutely no doubt that cinematographer Shreya Dev Dube has given us a visual masterpiece.

Very early on in the film we are introduced to two gruesome murders. One of a young local villager and the other a middle-aged couple prepping for their daughter’s wedding. This village is riddled with opium smuggling, dacoits, and inter-border tensions and the sparsely populated area is largely reflective of the strenuous lives of locals there. Naturally, the investigating officer Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor) presumes that the murders are all a result of the opium trade that happens across borders. However, prancing around here is also a silent, brooding young man named Siddharth Kumar (Harshvardhan Kapoor) who is very evidently an outsider. He pretends to be an antique collector and an excavator exploring the desert, but his motives are precarious. After 25-years of honest, but boring service, here’s one chance for Surekha to prove himself before he hangs his boots. Siddharth on the other hand is only looking for revenge, from something terrifying that happened to him in the past. He goes around nabbing three village men who are popular for doing odd jobs in other cities and tortures them to death. Surekha suspects Siddharth, but can’t really place his movements.  It’s much later that we are told why he does this, and when we know, it all somehow just doesn’t add up.

But, Thar also poses as a grim and gritty story of human vengeance, and sadly the visuals do not save the dreary plot.

The plot here is not just paper thin, but solely relies on the cops’ unending search and the criminal’s grueling methods of tormenting his victims. Set within a terrific backdrop of the dunes and political unrest of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, screenwriter and director Raj Singh Choudhary uses neither space or social conflict to layer the story. It resembles a stark cowboy-like cop drama, but ends up being all style and no substance. The director spends countless scenes on extremely violent methods of human torture which just seems like a desperate attempt to shock the audience. What may have seemed impactful on the edit table, ends up being just cringe worthy blood and gore that adds no value to the story.

The only solace in it is Anil Kapoor with his constable friend Satish Kaushik who remind you what good old classy acting feels like. Kapoor adapts a slow, mysterious, soft-spoken demeanor that really cuts through the harsh landscape of the desert. He eases the pain of sitting through the film many times. Junior Kapoor who almost acts as an antidote to his father’s character in this one isn’t too bad when he’s not taking any dialogues. There are barely any female characters in the film and the one played by Fatima Sana Sheikh is too loosely written for us to care.

It resembles a stark cowboy-like cop drama, but ends up being all style and no substance.

The star of Thar is the setting- the simmering sand, nothingness that lasts for miles, trees shedding their skin, vultures circling the barren sky, oasis of greens that appear now and then, and human beings with harsh faces waiting for something to change. The camera croons through the desert like a lone ranger expanding our minds into the silences it captures. Shreya Dev is so bold with her lenses and shot taking that at points we see some obscure characters on screen watching us, watching them. It’s cinematic to another level and she is surely to pick up all the accolades for this film. If this was a documentary, it would have garnered acclaim worldwide and we can only hope that she gets a story worth her craft in the next one.

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