Bollywood has never had a great reputation with respect to the horror or fantasy genre but Tumbbad sets a new record. Here is a move that took 6 years of incubation and finally made an amazing entry with being India’s first movie to be chosen at the Venice International Film Critics’ Week.
Directed by debutant Rahil Anil Barve and Anand Gandhi, Tumbbad is an intriguing tale of the demons of greed. The exhilarating top-notch cinematography by Pankaj Kumar takes audiences through 3 generations of Rao family through 3 Chapters and the consequences of their insatiable greed. While greed forms the central theme, the movie also explores other social elements of patriarchy, colonialism, gender inequality gorgeously blended with the aesthetics of the 1920s and 40s.
The movie begins with a prologue – a conversation between Vinayak Rao and his son Pandurang in 1947, wherein we are introduced to the movie’s central character – Hastar, a demon God born from the Goddess of Prosperity and Creator of the Universe whose womb is also the Earth.
While the gluttonous Hastar manages to gobble up all Gold, he is attacked by his 16 crore sibling-Gods when he tries to devour the food. The Goddess out of love for the first born saves Hastar on the condition that he is never to be worshipped or remembered and keeps him in her womb for eternity. However, the Rao family awakens the subdued demon god by creating an idol for him and worshipping him thereof.
Starts Chapter 1. Perpetually soaked Tumbbad with all the eerie background and claustrophobic setup beautifully makes the viewer ready for the horrors ahead. Young Vinayak, his brother Sadashiv and widowed mother are all victims of extreme poverty tasked with feeding a monster grandmother in exchange for a small gold coin from the latter’s son which they get only after his death. A lot happens in Chapter 1 and it ends with young Vinayak and his mother leaving Tumbbad for Pune.
Personally, I found Chapter 1 the most dreadful thanks to the ace production design and intense performances by the actors. The scene wherein young Vinayak faces the monster grandmother is one of the movie’s hallmarks and depictive of the triumph of greed over fear. Leaving you at the edge of your seat, it is one of my favourite sequences from the movie.
Chapter 2 introduces the young and sturdy Vinayak Rao who returns to his ancestral village to claim what belongs to him; the legacy of Hastar and his treasure. Finally unravelling the secret behind the hidden treasure, Vinayak Rao’s fortunes change overnight. Here we get to know a lot of other characters like the jeweller friend and the mistress the latter gets for Vinayak. It is also here that we are introduced to the womb and its inhabitant for the first time.
Chapter 3 solely focusses on Vinayak’s son Pandurang, the latter who has inherited his father’s greed and who eventually leads to the doom of the Rao family. Possibly the film’s best performance comes from Pandurang played by Mohammad Samad. And trust me the climax is something that will completely blow out your mind leaving you uneasy and contemplative once the movie is over.
Shot over a period of 6 years in actual monsoon, the visual richness of Tumbbad will engulf you in its unusual horrific details. The production design, CGI and cinematography add life to each scene; never leaving you comfortable but aligned to the dark, disturbing narrative. Sohum Shah, actor-producer who plays the part of Vinayak exceeds expectations and ticks all boxes. His expressions do the talking and there couldn’t have been anyone else doing justice to the role.
However, it is Mohammad Samad, Vinayak’s son Pandurang, who steals away attention in the last leg. It will be a sin if I do not mention young Vinayak played by Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jogelekar, so convincing that you would not be able to decide whether to sympathise or despise him. Another breathtaking element is the background score which successfully gives you all the chills composed by Jesper Kyd. It creates an aura of uneasiness and is ominous enough to tug you at your seats.
A perfect blend of horror, mystery, mythology, fantasy and period with social and moral underpinnings, Tumbbad is one film you need to watch right now if you love dark, eerie settings with a rich fabric of effective storytelling.