Thar  ‘Netflix’ Review: A True Blue Indian Revisionist Western
There is as much to admire about Thar as there is to criticize. There is no denying that Thar (2022) comes closest to resembling a revisionist western of American standards than any other Hindi film. I don’t intend to suggest a hierarchy where Thar has assumed the zenith by virtue of its design. Most Hindi westerns, after all, have chosen to tell the stories of dacoits and rebels in barren lands, searching for revenge, identity, or both. Thar commits itself to conventions of the American subgenre while accommodating its characters and their reality in the India of 1985.
*This is not a spoiler-free review.
Thar (2022) is a culmination of multiple elements: A scorched land vulnerable to lawlessness originating from scarcity, a police officer who is struggling to find relevance in his duty, women with desires subjected to violence by men, and a strange man who neither belongs to where he has arrived nor is he pretending to.
What makes ‘Thar’ compelling is the slow pace at which it burns. A myriad of characters are seen responding to their motivations, some known and some unknown, but common linkages are not yet established. The process becomes engaging because we can feel how everything will eventually converge as an audience—the first half of the film thrills by invoking anticipation. The second half takes us into a discomforting experience with a no holds barred approach. The most entertaining aspect is that you get archetypal characters for your pleasure.
The disappointing side to this would be Harshvardhan Kapoor’s limited performance. He, as an actor, seems to be avoiding a method to perform and relies on reactions as means of performance. Unfortunately, his natural self suffers from a monotone that doesn’t let the audience read anything from his face. There are specific sequences of sexual tension between him and Fatima Sana Sheikh’s Kesar for evidence. But all these sequences rely more on upon intercuts to Kesar’s chest than Siddharth’s gaze. This is the most rudimentary way of expressing lust when it comes to visual language.
Personally, it is the fridging trope that hurts the most. The trope cannot be validated on the statistical relevance of the phenomenon. Women suffer from sexual violence in overwhelming numbers every day. This fact is triggering. But the existence of a male savior behind every violated woman is just an exaggerated fictional reality that serves only one purpose, providing validation to grotesque violence men inflict on other men in the name of vengeance. This not only becomes the source of a story arc but becomes the story itself. It hijacks screentime for its convenience. First, it becomes an excuse for gore, a source of visual pleasure for many in the audience. Second, it becomes the source of easy resolution. You, as a storyteller, can afford to make any choice in your screenplay because you have this trope to exploit, for it is bound to win the audience’s sympathy.
At what cost? The cost of women. Women are objects for the stories of men—women who have no signature. Violence is inflicted on them to prove that men are the rot in society. Women have their sexuality and libido exoticized so that men can make a point about women having desires. Men write women in different ways to establish their goodness and also their evil. It is as if men are completely unable to talk about patriarchy and violence without including women.
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Yes, vengeance is bad. But verbalizing it is not enough. Cinema makes visualization essential. The men of this era have found an easy license to portray toxicity while also escaping feminist critique. It is to kill the toxic man as retribution or karmic fate. As long as the toxic man gets killed, the expression of his toxicity can have any shape and form. The toxic man has no inner self, but only a body that carries out certain acts that become representative of all that is wrong with society. In the context of Thar, a man performs unimaginable violence and gets his motivations justified with the fridging trope. And then he gets killed in another act of vengeance. The circle of violence is complete. Point made. As long as the filmmaker decides to close the loop, anything can occur within the loop. But how am I to believe the vengeful rage is lethal to a person’s spirit only through words in the epilogue?
This criticism is not against the possibility of this phenomenon or its intensity affecting someone. I have no prerogative on experiences that I don’t have. My experience is of cinema. This experience dictates that films are exploiting a part of reality to the point that the exploitation has become part of the problem. All films exploit reality no doubt. But when it comes to certain things such as the aforementioned, it is not the whole of reality that gets exploited for a nuanced portrayal. It is merely a convenient screenplay-friendly side of it that provides the most vital foundation to the weakest of scripts.
Moving ahead of disappointments, Thar is a gripping thriller that doesn’t shy away from its sociopolitical reality, which is rigidly hierarchal. Its seemingly main plot gets reduced to a subplot and terminated in a haphazard conclusion. But the refined performance by Anil Kapoor makes the journey worth taking.
Thar (2022) must be watched for its genre affirmations and the thrill inherent to it. Only then would one be able to have an informed opinion on its screenplay aesthetics. This is an Anil Kapoor show. Hence, nothing much can be said about everyone else.