Thar Review: Desert Safari

Thar is a film that lives up to its name. The Great Indian Desert is the real protagonist of Raj Singh Chaudhury’s film. Beyond the eerie vistas and ominous landscape, there is little more to the film

Thar Review: Desert Safari

Namrata Joshi

Thar is a film that lives up to its name. The Great Indian Desert is the real protagonist of Raj Singh Chaudhury’s Netflix film. With its vast and desolate majesty and the bare and barren abundance it goes beyond being a passive playground for the human drama in Thar. The endless stretches of coarse sand and dry shrubs, the crumbling mansions, and the solitary forts trigger, propel and ricochet the action; the animal cadavers and birds of prey parallel the human predatoriness on which the edifice of the film stands. However, beyond these eerie vistas and ominous landscape, there is little more to the film.

In this wild, wild west—border town Munabao in Rajasthan—Inspector Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor) has been performing his quiet, uneventful duty till a storm blows into his life in the form of a spate of robberies that he has to figure out. Dowry is looted from the home of a young girl who is about to get married. A canny Singh can see that it’s not just to do with the ready moolah but the drug trade from across the border. Dacait (robbers) are actually taskar (smugglers). In the process he earns a bitter rival for himself—Pakistani smuggler Hanif Khan (Rahul Singh)—who is baying for his blood with his opium business under threat from Singh.

The Indian desert “Western” comes layered with a shade of film noir, what with the middle-aged cop Singh given to existential stirrings and crises of a typical noir gumshoe. What have been his achievements? Why has a promotion been so elusive for him? What is it like being an inspector forever? Has his humdrum life been worth it? It’s this element that’s the most compelling part of the film with Anil Kapoor expressing the inner workings of his character’s mind persuasively and empathetically. Only one wishes there was more of it, and a deeper exploration of his relationship with his wife and son, who remain confined to the background.

His buddy-cop ties with Bhure (Satish Kaushik) are as interesting but leave one asking for much more. In fact, it’s this uneasy sense of incompleteness that plagues the film the most—characters, relationships, situations left half done, half formed, half baked, half realized. Right down to a mere token engagement with the issue of caste divides—Bhure talking about how, if he would have opted to be a chef in life, he would have been disregarded entirely by people despite dishing out fabulous laal maans and that the police uniform hides his caste very well; the reason why he joined the force than following his passion for cooking.

Parallel to this is the track of a quiet, impassive young man from the city, Siddharth (Harshvardhan Kapoor) traipsing through the desert. He is in the business of antiques and wants some of his precious goods amassed from the area to be transported home for which he enlists a local guy Panna (Jitendra Joshi) and his cronies, even as Panna’s supposedly infertile, unsatisfied, and unhappy wife (Fatima Sana Sheikh) seems to have an eye for him. Meanwhile, Panna’s friend Suva’s badly mauled corpse is found hanging from a tree. Who is the killer? Why did he kill Suva with such beastliness? Singh gets another case to solve, and life turns the kind of exciting that it had never ever been earlier.

But here too the ends don’t tie up well. And that has nothing to do with Kapoor Junior’s single note performance. The problem is with the narrative itself. There is this deliberate air of mystery that doesn’t add up to much. Neither does the excessive blood and gore, the insatiable anger, and the overwhelming sense of the macabre. The murder might be marked with brutality but rests on a predictable premise. Despite the grisly and the lurid it somehow doesn’t come across as a shocker. A film that fizzles out despite a promising premise.

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