In 1971, Straw Dogs, a mild-mannered mathematician played by Dustin Hoffman, sets up elaborate death traps to respond to a gang of workers who raped his wife. In 1974’s Death Wish, the architect played by Charles Bronson takes on the role of a bouncer after his wife and daughter are attacked in a home invasion. Both films were deemed too extreme for polite society, and were described, separately, as “semi-fascist” endorsements of violence. spoilers in the future.
Thar, on Netflix, not western Noir It’s heralded as just an old-school revenge thriller that puts a redact spin on films like Straw Dogs and Death Wish. Starring Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor as an enigmatic city antique dealer who roams a Rajasthan village that has been rocked by a series of brutal murders that would make Eli Roth proud, Thar also portrays his father Anil Kapoor as a local policeman, Satish Kaushik as the right-handed cop, and Fatimah Sana Sheik as a widow flirts with the idea of becoming a woman killer with the same force with which she began a relationship with Harsh’s character, Siddharth.
that it slow burning movie Wisely reveals new information, like a farmer framing their faces in harrowing close-up shots, looking to conserve water. The movie invites the viewer to play with him, without talking to anyone or overwhelming you with an unnecessary offer. It takes, for example, time to reveal that it was none other than Siddharth who was responsible for the systematic killings in the village, in retaliation for the rape and murder of his wife. Most viewers will be able to join the points and draw conclusions before this big reveal, which happens right at the end of the movie. But Thar isn’t the type to rely heavily on traumatic vicissitudes. Instead, he devotes all of his attention to crafting a compelling journey for them.
However, there was a moment when I was convinced that everything was about to fall apart; That the tracks I have laid out so meticulously over the past hour and a half have a small gap that would obstruct the next peak. As we’d all (hopefully) agree, the cinematic trope where women are brutalized just to aid a man’s evolution is frowned upon and outdated. But fittingly for a film in which the characters encounter many symbolic thorns in the road, the crucial decision Thar makes in the end is perhaps the biggest reason why he is able to avoid going down this somewhat problematic path.
The movie forces you to wrestle with your feelings about it during the five-minute period. Director Raj Singh Choudhury had stopped the violence before, when Siddharth tortured his prey in the most horrific way possible, but the scene of the assault at the end seemed unnecessarily needless. “Why not cut off?” I remember thinking. We don’t need to see brutality. The inclusion was sufficient. But then, after a few minutes, I realized that was kind of the point. Because it is at the heart of hearts, Thar is a feminist tale. Spending most of his time on Siddarth’s mission is just a distraction from his true purpose, which is to hand control over to Fatima Sana Sheikh’s character, Sheetna.
Ultimately, Chetna shoots Siddharth for his transgressions – because he killed her husband, yes, but also for leading her to believe he actually had feelings for her. Chetna has been shown as a meek character who has always been blamed for things beyond her control – from her infertility to her attraction to Siddharth. Its power to wrest from him, and to use it violently for her own advantage, sends a powerful message about what kind of movie this is. Far from being rewarded for his actions, Siddharth is punished for thinking he can inflict pain on others and to get away with it. The cycle of violence in which the world seems to be trapped, and the blind male ego responsible for much of it, is what Thar wants to target.
He does himself a disservice by alluding to the black and white sensibilities of Sholay, a film with which he does not share stylistic and thematic similarities; Thar is actually a moral story along the lines of Simple Plan and Gun Stories, a great crime drama that I highly recommend.
Director Sam Peckinpa tried at least some kind of reflection on the end of Straw Dogs, as Hoffman’s character appears to have been altered by his actions. But the mere decision to let him live is an act of forgiveness on the part of the film. It was also a bit rich from the director to wag his finger at the audience to enjoy scenes of odious brutality, having enjoyed them only minutes before. Director Michael Weiner puts no such effort into Death Wish, which rewards Bronson’s character with an entire movie franchise for himself.
Of course, we’ve seen versions of this trope – “cooling,” as it’s generally known – featured in countless Hindi films as well. There’s no bad idea that Bollywood filmmakers can’t recast it in at least five different languages, after all. After an initial wave of revenge rape films in the ’80s and ’90s, a second wave—perhaps spurred on by the real-life Delhi incident in 2012—arrived with films like Bumi, Kabyle and Simba. Each of these films promoted similar ideas of loss of honor from a man’s perspective; They treated women as victims, not survivors.
Thar ends on a very moving note. After the dust settles on the barbarism, Surika Singh of Anil Kapoor discovers the women of the village walking along the no man’s land in the desert and offers them a lift home. Finally, freed from the burdens of the men in their lives, they rode until sunset. For women to live on their own terms, Thar suggests, the men must first be wiped out — or at least thrown into a Darwinian sandbox where they will eventually kill each other. It’s an extreme idea, no doubt, but it’s also somewhat realistic, don’t you think?
Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases each week, with a particular focus on context, character, and characters. Because there is always something to focus on once the dust has settled.