Written by Mitesh Shah, Adesh Prasad, Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi
Directed by Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi, Adesh Prasad
The joy of watching movies from another part of the world is that we get to experience their culture, their practices, and their history. If horror is about putting us in uncomfortable places where we are not sure of our surroundings and where we can’t rely upon our own worldview, then getting the opportunity to watch a foreign film is one of the best ways to make that happen. We in the genre community have been fortunate enough to experience waves from Asia, France, Spain, and more. Now, it seems that horror is opening itself to another part of the world: India.
Tumbbad follows a Vinayak (Shah) through three stages of his life: the first as a young boy, the second as a grown man, and finally as a father. In his childhood, he, his brother, and mother are in charge of feeding the family matriarch, an old woman who has been cursed by Hastar, the greed-riddled son of the Mother Goddess whose loincloth contains an endless supply of gold coins. Convinced that this woman knows of an endless treasure, Vinayak’s avarice consumes him entirely, becoming the core of his being from the very beginning. It becomes his life’s mission to find Hastar so that he may have unending wealth. Of course, nothing goes according to plan, as we all know.
Shah plays the elder two iterations of Vinayak with great enthusiasm, reveling in his covetous nature. It engulfs him to the point that he breaks his promise to his mother to never return to the town of Tumbbad and, specifically, the manor in which the treasure is supposedly hidden. Essentially a fairy tale, albeit of the more grim and horrific kind, the film is host to some truly enchanting visuals, such as a woman with a tree growing out of her chest, the god Hastar, who looks like a more regal version of “I have no skin” Frank from Hellraiser, and the womb of the Mother Goddess.
Not one to shy away from the history of the time, the impact of British colonialism is clearly felt and the rampant misogyny is impossible to miss, to the point that young boys feel perfectly fine telling their mothers horrible things. To be honest, it’s jaw-dropping but one of the major points of the film is that man’s purposeful ignoring of the warning signs given to them by the women in their lives leads to their downfall, so it’s necessary to see this kind of conduct to hammer down the greater theme.
Never really a scary film, Tumbbad is more focused on the horror of human behavior than it is on creaking doors and the terror of what lurks in the dark. That being said, there’s a scene that takes place, quite literally, in the womb of the Mother Goddess that features some intense and exciting moments. Gore is also utilized sparingly but effectively, the film never opting to stray into B-movie territory.
And while cinematographer Pankaj Kumar squeezes each location to the last drop for atmosphere and mood, the film’s 108-minute runtime becomes felt more and more with each passing scene. The second act especially is overly drawn out, trying to prove just how lavish Vinayak’s lifestyle becomes with his ill-obtained wealth but only succeeding in eliciting a feeling of “Hurry up a bit, would ya?” Thankfully, the third act is where things really start to pick up and where horror fans will certainly get their fill.
Undoubtedly gorgeous and wonderfully atmospheric, Tumbbad suffers from overstaying its welcome. But make no bones about it, it’s a fascinating journey into Indian horror with a timely, relevant historical twist.