A mysterious young man with an unwashed look about him walks into a small town scorched by the sun and covered in a thick layer of dust. He catches the eyes of all in town: the docile wives of absentee husbands and also the wise ol' sheriff who is hunting for a murderer on the lurk.
Director Raj Singh Chaudhary tries his best to bring in all the usual tropes of a Hollywood Western to Thar: the early setup of the plot and its characters, the slant roof houses that are more 1930s Texas than Rajasthan, the saloon style dhaba that is only missing a spittoon at the door, dreaded dacoits, their horses and even police chases through wild, barren lands. A simple homage is also paid to perhaps the greatest desi Western ever made, Ramesh Sippy's Sholay.
Unfortunately, Thar's Western aspirations dwindle quite drastically midway as it enters a completely different torture porn genre. There is not much left to salvage after that. The Western theme of revenge is still at the heart of the film. However, the treatment of it appears so lazy by the end, that I can't really applaud it for sticking to it. A woman is shoved deep into the fridge just when you thought you witnessed a different-than-usual female character, and the final reveal is literally handed over to the viewer in one of the laziest pieces of writing in a long time. But the journey to the lazy end wasn't pleasant either. Thar's middle is filled with such long scenes of torture and gore, you almost expect a clown ventriloquist doll to come riding down the hall on a tricycle. Things take a turn for the horrible and unwatchable with the flashback scene at the very end. Horrifying sounds effects are introduced to add to the 'impact' of the torture and none of it leaves you for a long while. And not in a good way at all.
Despite the no-fun gore, Thar is mostly watchable for the ambience it creates and performances of its lead cast. The film's mysterious new man in town is played by Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor, who has never been disappointing really but his KRA this time is 90% brood in the distance and 10% angry reaction shots. He gets a 100% appraisal rating from me though for delivering well on whatever little was asked of him. The better-written roles went to Anil Kapoor and Fatima Sana Shaikh, from the self-proclaimed 'supporting cast'. Anil Kapoor easily sells the wise but beaten inspector, hungry for a promotion and adventure in his usually silent, peaceful town. He commands respect from the townspeople and also you, watching him on your Netflix app. Never over-playing or downplaying any moment, Anil shows just how much he has matured at ably handling the tempo of his performance over the years. He knows when it's just enough to have tears fill up your eyes and stare at the ceiling and at your future, stuck in the rut of an uneventful life. He also knows how to convincingly sell that he loved his loyal constable's lal maas recipe. Anil deserves even more love than we give him. Fatima Sana Shaikh doesn't quite look like the Rajasthani village belle, but does well as the timid wife who knows when to grab an opportunity. She gets more room than Harsh Varrdhan to spread out her feet, be shy, forthcoming and even terrified.
Chaudhary and gang needed to polish the ending a bit more, let the detective and the audience arrive on it rather than serve them the answer on a platter. And to be honest, the inspiration for revenge could have definitely been less reminiscent of Rajiv Rai movies from the 90s, overall. The whole subplot about dacoits and drugs is so needlessly tied in and left out, I still don't understand the purpose of it other than serving as a very taxing diversion.
However, Thar does deliver well on the mood. Almost exclusively shot during high sun or late night, it drills in the arid, dry and hopeless feeling. I do wonder if I missed the significance of Thar as anything more than simply a setting for the story. Why is the entire film called Thar? Saw: The India Chapter could be better. How about Mohra 2? But let's be honest, no one can beat the 'Naseeruddhin Shah isn't blind' climax reveal for another 20 years.