Thar is a neo-noir police procedural set in a barren landscape with a weak plot. But the film — released by Netflix on May 6 — deserves credit for its startling cinematography, which takes the viewer back to the Paleolithic age.

Produced by the father-and-son duo, Anil Kapoor and Harshvardhan Kapoor, Thar is directed by Raj Singh Chaudhary. The Kapoors also star in the film, alongside Fatima Sana Shaikh.

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Set in 1985, the plot revolves around a mysterious antique dealer, Siddharth Kumar (Harshvardhan Kapoor), who comes to a remote hamlet (Munabao) in the Thar desert that straddles the Indo-Pak border. The local police inspector, Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor), and his deputy Bhure (Satish Kaushik) are investigating a sudden uptick in gruesome killings.

Who is responsible for strewing decaying bodies after draining their lifeblood and leaving them to crumble in the desert? Is the crude ruffian Panna (Jitendra Joshi) involved in the heinous crime? Is Panna’s wife, the sultry Kesar, hiding more behind her ghungat than the violent sexual and physical abuse by her toxic husband? Does she know about the nefarious activities of Panna and his local hustlers?

Vendetta of Violence

Surekha Singh is aware of Kesar’s plight, and tries to render justice. But Thar’s storyline unravels predictably into a vendetta of violent revenge that seemed unnecessary ​​to me. 

Veteran actor Anil Kapoor reveals his acting prowess through his eyes, and the economy of gestures and dialogue to match the relentless face of the landscape.

The honest conversations Surekha has with his on-screen wife are well done. A message that caught my attention in between the ample sprinkling of local obscenities was: Police ki vardi mein jaat chhup jati hai! This translates to: caste can hide behind the uniform of the policeman.

The background score is authentic, as is the dialogue by Anurag Kashyap. Words echo the desolation of these desperate characters. 

Lal Maas And Dal Batti

I was curious about this film because I have lived in Rajasthan, and walked on the shifting sands of the Thar desert. My maternal grandfather started his service in the police force in the Sikar district of Rajasthan in the 1940s. He was a brave man, with all-seeing hazel-green eyes, a trim handlebar mustache, and a wiry, athletic body. He chased dacoits on horseback in the Chambal ghats and rounded up petty thieves. Although he spoke the local dialect and taught us about Rajasthani lal maas, and dal batti, we did not see him cuss incessantly like the officers in this film.

My mother told me that my grandfather’s fame spread through the desert towns like a bawandar. Criminals came to the police station to turn themselves in when he checked into town. Bauji, as we called him, had a few bullet wounds, but his soul was intact. He was promoted to DSP police, and he finally settled in the capital city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. I guess he was more politically savvy than the protagonist Surekha Singh, who preferred to darn his own socks and retire in Munabao, rather than venture outside his home base.

Harshvardhan Kapoor takes his role seriously. His swarthy getup and cryptic demeanor bring to memory the Western noir movies from the 1950s, like The Gunfighter and Rio Bravo. Anil Kapoor plays John Wayne to Harshvardhan’s Clint Eastwood.

Fraught With Peril

As for me, I would have liked to discuss Thar with my grandfather, Superintendent (retd.) Dila Ram ji Dheer, who never showed his tough veneer to his grandkids. But now that I think of the retired police officer — nonchalantly riding a bicycle to the palace in Jaipur and living a bucolic life, tending to his garden and farm animals — I think he had many secrets. No wonder he built his home with a basement and watch tower. Regardless, I am certain he would have resonated with the final words of Surekha Singh: The path of revenge is fraught with peril. The avenger always digs two graves!

Worth watching if you can sit through the violent scenes. I had to fast forward them.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two...