Tumbbad is inspired by Shripad Narayan Pendse’s Marathi novel, Tumbadche Khot. When something with great potential inspires the right minds, Tumbbad happens. Rahi Anil Barve, Co-director Adesh Prasad and the creative head, Anand Gandhi (Director of Ship of Theseus) culminate their imagination, ambition and craft to produce an extremely satisfying cinematic experience with Tumbbad.
Tumbbad is a village somewhere in Western India, cursed with perennial rainfall, by the angry gods. Although a curse for the village, its an absolute boon to the film-makers as they setup some stunning frames against the intimidating rainfall, adding to the drama. The film plays out in 3 Chapters, more like the three act structure of screenwriting and each chapter is separated from the other by 14 years, with the first chapter set in 1918. There is a ghostly mansion in Tumbbad, and it is believed that this humongous mansion houses an undiscovered treasure whose whereabouts are only known to a zombied old woman, whose mouth is nailed, making her incapable of revealing the location of the Treasure. We follow a young kid’s story for the next 30 years of his life as he grows into adulthood, while the greed incubating within, only gets worse. The kid is Vinayak, a kid fascinated by the possibility of discovering the treasure, but his mother rightly identifies that fascination as greed, to curb which, she makes him take an oath about not returning to Tumbbad as they leave the village in a boat. This is a wonderfully performed and smartly executed scene and is a primary example of the makers’ ability to indulge in some breathtaking visual storytelling. As the mother and son are fleeing Tumbbad, a place that has only harboured grief and greed, the entire scene is played out with thorny, leafless tree branches in the foreground and the wailing mother and an upset son in the background, exemplifying the thorny, lifeless lives they have lived so far in this cursed, gloomy village.
The rest of the film is a gleefully entertaining tussle between the man’s greed and his fate. The narrative is powered by an exceptional screenplay that feeds on the audience’s intelligence, rather than doubting it. The writers effortlessly create a suspenseful narrative that gets gutwrenching as it moves along into the breathtaking second half, where the audience, for the first time, gets a piece of information that is, tactfully, hidden from them for the most part of the film. 5 minutes on either sides of the interval, are the best portions of the film, which includes a reveal of a prominent place and the absolute ease with which this complex screenplay point is handled, is commendable. The direction and writing in this film, are seamlessly merged together to create a gripping narrative. Also, this is a rare horror/fantasy film that is aware of the period it is set in and subtly imbibes the conflicts of that period into the narrative, creating a rich and authentic story.
Soham Shah plays the role of Vinayak, the lead. He is a despicable character, there is no redeeming trait to this man. The greed in his heart has seeped into his Green eyes. Despite good show by the convincing Soham Shah, we don’t get to know the character inside out. The staggering craft at display is what stays with you, long after you leave the hall, not as much the characters but the experience of sitting in the dark hall and being sucked in to the gloomy, tantalizing frames. Pankaj Kumar, the cinematographer deserves to be recognized as one of the most promising talents. He uses light and color magically and creates scenes that are awe-inspiring but with a lot of purpose and soul. Some of the moments in the second have the most stunning imagery created in Indian cinema in recent times. His imagination and execution result in some indelible images. He has the unique ability to create a visually appealing narrative with light, color and CGI and also infuse the screen with soul, transforming you right in the middle of the action, with your breathe held tight.
Tumbbad is a fantasy, a horror flick, a story about human morals but it is ultimately an Original, home-grown genre that our country can be proud of. The brilliance of this film, magnifies the dearth of films about our own folklores and home-grown bedtime stories. Tumbbad assures you that India is a treasure of intriguing stories, waiting to be discovered.
We have, unfortunately, come to generalize the definition of ‘ horror ‘ in the recent times, thanks to the excrutiatingly boring and uninspiring Conjuring and Insidious franchise. Tumbbad breaks the spell. It firmly reiterates the fact that horror is to be felt in your bones, throughout the duration of the film and long after it, but not sporadically jumping up in your seat at some cheap sound affects and camera trickery. Tumbbad is scary not just because of the monsters but also because one is not familiar with the beats of the story, it is utterly suspenseful. There is no haunted house, no creaking doors, no backstory about a girl who was murdered in the name of love, let us leave that to Vikram Bhatt, Tumbbad is here to change the game and boy does it succeed !