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Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor on working with Anil Kapoor and challenging Bollywood stereotypes in OTT thriller 'Thar'

The gritty film inspired by Western noir genres releases May 6 on Netflix.


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Mon 2 May 2022, 2:24 PM

Last updated: Mon 2 May 2022, 2:27 PM

Actor Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor is teaming up with his illustrious father Anil Kapoor for the second time after black comedy AK vs AK, in Netflix’s gritty revenge thriller Thar.

Harsh Varrdhan, known for offbeat choices like the Ray anthology and vigilante flick Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, hopes to draw in a discerning audience for Thar, which is inspired by Western noir genres and set in a village in 80s Rajasthan.

The intense trailer for Thar shows a cop, Surekha Singh (Anil Kapoor), investigating a series of brutal deaths and Harsh Varrdhan as an antiques dealer, Siddharth, who comes under his radar. Other cast members include Dangal star Fatima Sana Sheikh and the immensely talented Satish Kaushik as Surekha Singh’s sidekick. The stark and barren landscape of a desert sets an apt tone for a riveting mystery where all the main characters seem to have something to hide.

We caught up with Harsh Varrdhan (who also turns producer with Thar) on the phone to get some insight into the making of what seems like a very unconventional film by Bollywood standards.

You promise a visual experience unlike any other in Thar. What sets Thar apart from something we’ve seen before?

The tone, mood and atmosphere of the film are quite unique. I think that Thar is probably worth looking forward to for the interesting combination of the very unique world it is set in, and a narrative with layered characters.

Thar is tagged as a gritty thriller inspired by Western noir. What drew you to this particular script?

I think the opportunity to do something new and exciting. It’s difficult to find something original and subversive and uncompromising in its vision. If you are able to go out and make a movie like that, it will be kind of fresh when it comes out, because it’s not your typical Bollywood film.

The film is set in the desert and the visuals in the trailer are very stark and even kind of forbidding. What was the challenge of shooting in these conditions?

The landscape plays a very important role in terms of setting the mood for this narrative to kind of unfold, and it’s also symbolic for the characters’ state of mind; it’s not just there for beauty’s sake. There is a lot of visual symbolism — the buffalo carcass in the trailer for example, and stuff like that. All of that is there for a reason. You’ve never really seen locations like this.

It was very hard logistically — two to two and a half hour travels to the location, unpredictable weather conditions. It was hard to go there itself, and then to take the crew and equipment there…

But eventually we wanted (the director) Raj Singh Chaudhary’s vision to come to life and this is what good producers do; we give the directors what they want.

What can you tell us about your character, Siddharth?

I can’t talk too much about the character to be honest, because it’s not a plot-driven film; it’s a character-driven film, so if I take you into the depths of the character and who he is really, then I’d be giving away too much.

But what I can say is that it is difficult to engage an audience when they don’t understand your character’s motive. In traditional films, you know exactly why somebody is doing what they are doing.

What I found most interesting about Thar and I hope the audience kind of picks up on it is, sometimes it’s nice to not know; sometimes it’s good to pose a question to the viewer, for them to make up their minds.

Anil Kapoor has said that the role of cop Surekha Singh in Thar was pitched to him by you. Did you have much convincing to do, to get him to do it?

It wasn’t easy; we kind of went out there, did a test shoot… he had read the script a long time ago, but to get him on board took quite a long time actually.

You’ve worked together earlier on AK vs AK. Does the fact that you’re father and son bring something new to the table?

Not really. I think it’s just two actors individually trying to do their best; I don’t really think it’s deeper than that, to be honest!

Did you give each other advice or critique each other’s work while working together?

Not really. I think that is something that happens either pre or post (the film). It’s kind of unprofessional to share your opinion on somebody else’s work on set.

You’ve also turned producer with Thar. What challenges and rewards did that added role bring?

I did it because Raj is a new director. Here was a first-time filmmaker whose vision was quite large, and also very subversive at the same time. In a situation like that, sometimes you have people who come in and say, change this, or do this, or make this character like this, so that it’s easier to sell the film, you know?

But I didn’t want that to happen, and he and I really kind of aligned on the way that we wanted the film to eventually turn out. So it’s just something that happened whereby we became a team, and it kind of went from there.

Are you glad Thar is getting an OTT release? When you work for OTT is there more creative freedom as to the content and execution of the project?

Absolutely! Number one, the box office these days is so unpredictable. Number two — we haven’t had to change the film in any way, shape or form to cater to a larger audience. Number three, we are a lot more flexible in terms of (scenes of) violence, sex… and you don’t really have to think about the censor board. Because (with) the censor board… one day you can do something, and the other day you can’t do it.

Plus, the barometer for success here is a bit different, right? It becomes about the merit of the film and not about the collections. Which is also great, because I feel like Thar is a film that is really new in a lot of ways and might take some time to find an audience! I’m hoping it happens right away; it’s a very well put together film, it’s technically very sound… and it’s exciting to see it reach out to a global subscriber base. I know for sure there is an audience for Thar; I just don’t know where it is.

Whether it’s Mirzya, Bhavesh Joshi or the anthology Ray you seem to pick and choose unconventional scripts. What is it that draws you to a particular story?

The opportunity to do something original, unique and authentic that is a personal extension of myself. And also to be a part of something where the director has something to say. You can’t really compare these films (that I’ve done) — for better or worse — to too much that’s out there and I find that very exciting. To able to do consistently do unique pieces of work is a rush for sure.

Apart from acting and films, what are your other interests? We notice from your Instagram posts that you love sneakers and Lego…

Right now I have a girlfriend so basically there’s no time for anything else… she’s become my hobby!

I like clothes a lot, I like shoes and dressing up. I like taking long walks, swimming, lifting weights. I love watching films; I like reading sporadically. I want to make clothes as well; I’ve been ideating and creating notes on my iPhone about clothes that I’d like to make. I don’t know when I’m going to end up making them but I definitely want to do a capsule of some sort. It will probably have to be self-funded, because when it is funded by other companies there are not just timelines but the expectation to do things in a certain way. I was speaking to my brother-in-law about it and he said I would be better off self-funding this.

I want to do a podcast about films at some point also. I need money for a lot of these things so probably after I’ve decided what I’m doing next as an actor, then I can start spreading my wings. The production thing for Thar is also new in a way; it’s exciting that I’ve been able to do that with only my fifth acting credit.

The idea is to make clothes, do podcasts, maybe even write and direct a film one day. It’s about not doing one thing for the rest of my life. I don’t really see myself only as an actor; I look at it as something I am doing right now.

Thar streams from May 6 on Netflix.

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