Shaadisthan director Raj Singh Chaudhary’s Thar is part neo-noir, part neo-Western and a wholly very good-looking production. Cinematographer Shreya Dev Dube takes full advantage of the location – a remote and rugged village on the Indo-Pak border – to create an immersive visual experience that single-handedly compensates for the barebones plot.
The Netflix release, set in 1985, revolves around a man with minimal vocabulary and limited affect. Siddharth (Harshvarrdhan Kapoor) claims to be an antiques dealer, but instead cuts a deadly swathe through the sun-burnt landscape.
Admiringly described as “resembling a Hollywood star” who has “such deep eyes”, Siddharth sticks out like a sore thumb in the village, but manages to stay a step ahead of the investigating police inspector Surekha (Anil Kapoor).
Surekha, who is also on the trail of opium dealers, gives Siddharth enough time to flash eyes at the wife of one of his marks. Chetna (Fatima Sana Shaikh) has the thick skin necessary to endure neighbourhood gossip and the expectant air characteristic of the cleavage-baring rural femme fatale.
Writer-director Chaudhary attempts to give an existential veneer to banal scenes of Surekha chasing clues and Siddharth being gruesome. Even the profanity has a desperate edge to it, but whatever little impact Thar makes is purely visual. (The 108-minute direct-to-streamer film would look stunning on a big screen.)
Amidst the bleached whites, deep browns and intense reds, a cop tries to make sense of senseless brutality. Anil Kapoor commits himself yet again whole and soul to an endeavour that isn’t as involved as him.
Satish Kaushik plays Watsonian sidekick to Kapoor’s Sherlockian policeman. Kaushik’s character is from a historically oppressed caste, but apart from virtue signalling, this revelation goes nowhere.
The film seems forever poised on the brink of transcendental revelation. In the loops of suspense drawn around Siddharth and the clouds of dust kicked up by the tireless Surekha, might we spot the real movie, the structure behind the scaffolding?
There isn’t one. The scaffolding is good enough but also not enough.