Thar fails to ignite any excitement on screen, sighs Sukanya Verma.
The difference between still and dead distinguishes a Western from an imposter.
Where one's mood can change any moment and escalate into danger and surprise, the other goes around in circles on empty, endless terrain.
Writer-director Raj Singh Chaudhary's Thar purports itself as a deadpan, desi Western, but fails to ignite any excitement on screen.
Probably the producers and protagonists Anil Kapoor and son Harsh Varrdhan had a lyrically violent and deviant image of the genre in mind, a description DoP Shreya Dev Dube's stark visuals convey powerfully. Except Thar is so entranced by the possibility of spectacle on its bone-dry terrain, it neglects to breathe life into its run-of-the-mill schemes.
Thar starts out with a fair bit of anticipation.
Anil Kapoor's weary voiceover recalls an episode from 1985 that turned his humdrum existence as a measly police inspector upside down.
Posted in Munabao, a remote village in Rajasthan -- the close proximity to Pakistan makes it a hotbed for trespassers and opium smugglers -- Kapoor is investigating the brutal murder of a local.
Until now, he has done nothing of significance in his career and is due for retirement in a couple of months.
His partner (an excellent Satish Kaushik) has resigned to an equally uneventful fate.
They may not have prospered as cops but they have accepted it for whatever it's worth anyway.
That's how Kaushik's subordinate sees it, 'Is naukri mein kamse kam jaat vardi mein chhup jaati hai' while alluding to the deeply-ingrained casteist system he is forced to adhere to.
But looking for the missing pieces of a perilous new crime, participating in shootouts and jeep chases instills a renewed sense of relevance of 'asli police-wala kaam' in them.
Last-ditch effort by late bloomers isn't a novel scenario, it's still attractive in view of Anil Kapoor and Kaushik's long-time friendship and collaboration. Their free-flowing familiarity is visible in the scenes whether they are savouring a meal of laal maas or chasing a band of dacoits.
This is a facet of Thar that left me intrigued, but this is the one it focuses on most fleetingly.
Instead, it's the arrival of a scruffy, mysterious stranger that gets most screen time.
Harsh Varrdhan introduces himself as Siddharth and rents a room in Chetna's (Fatema Sana Shaikh) home.
Chetna is the disenchanted wife of Panna, a village worker (Jitendra Joshi) Siddharth is keen on hiring along with a bunch of others in relation to his antiques business.
The duo share an instant attraction, which would be fine if it wasn't so hopelessly contrived and awkward.
Kaushik doesn't mind.
'Angrezi picture ka hero lagta hai,' he applauds while his superior contemplates if the timing of Kapoor Jr's entry and the village violence is a mere coincidence.
Amidst stylised frames of portrait-ready rustic locals and bleakly arid imagery of the region, unfolds a dry looking tale of violence and retribution that wants us to speculate if it is about riled smugglers, revenge seekers or ruthless cops.
What it lacks in heaps is cunning.
Thar is much too premediated in its ambiguity and objective to confuse the viewer over prolonged suspense.
Scenes and scenes of bloody torture alternating with silence wanting in smarts fizzle out, even as typical traits of the genre -- grubby faces of bystanders, lone tree on the desert, lone animal on the desert, a creepy whistle theme and keepsakes of unpleasant memories flash in and out of the frame.
Anil Kapoor as the fashionable cop riding a bike in his hip leather jacket and shiny sunglasses is a fetching sight. He is equally solid in his artistry.
Only the film in Kapoor's head is not the film Kapoor is starring in. If Thar had even one fourth of his heft, it would fare a lot better.
Its languidly-paced, blandly-told narrative doesn't help Harsh Varrdhan's limp intensity. His temper isn't understated, it's plain missing.
Nothing about his equation with Fatema's teasingly portrayed damsel-in-distress makes sense. And the utter lack of chemistry between them only makes her look doubly irrelevant in the proceedings.
Dialogue writer Anurag Kashyap's lines are stinging in their violence and crassness.
The women in Thar are its frequent casualties but Mukti Mohan's bawdy belle makes a meal out of it and emerges as the only bit of spunk in an otherwise dreary deal.
Clint Eastwood could be well talking about the Western genre in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly when he famously said, 'There's two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.'
Thar is too pretentious to do anything else.
Thar streams on Netflix.