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Tumbbad Review

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Director – Rahi Anil Barve

Producers: Eros International , Sohum Shah Films , Colour Yellow Productions , Film I Vast , FilmGate Films

Cast – Sohum Shah, Harish Khanna


Times of India

Movie Review: Tumbbad

Tumbbad Story: A young boy Vinayak Rao is affected by a personal tragedy. His encounter with a wretched old lady who knows of a buried treasure sets him on the path to greed. He grows up to explore the local legend of a monster named Hastar and his gold medallions.

Tumbbad Review: The best form of horror is one which plays with your mind. The fear of the uncertain and the unknown is what evokes the strongest emotions. Tumbbad is a perfect example of a film that creates a surreal illusion. This psychological horror has its traditional moments of blood and gore, but the most promising part of this terrifying fable is that it makes monsters out of ordinary men. A greedy human can be a lot more malicious than a cursed supernatural entity. Ideas like that make Tumbbad a real mind-bender and the film’s top-notch production design makes it a movie that truly reinvents the horror genre for Indian cinema.

The film kicks off with a CGI sequence of gods and goddesses and a strong allegory of the destructive nature of greed. Tumbbad, an actual village in Maharashtra, becomes the fabric of this tale. Incessant rain becomes the wrath of gods, and you can’t really tell what’s more grey, the characters or the locales. The film is set during the latter part of the British Raj and the period setting adds an air of authenticity to the story. Vinayak Rao, a young Maharashtrian Brahmin boy, loses his innocence when he faces adversity and tragedy. He’s introduced to the legend of Hastar, a mythical creature born out of a goddess, but one who’s selfish urge for gold and food got the better of him. But Hastar’s treasure full of gold medallions is buried somewhere underneath the estate of the local zamindar in Tumbbad. Vinayak’s mother is the caretaker for the zamindar’s wretched wife, referred to as Dadi (grandmom), who is also believed to be cursed by Hastar. Her appearance is so vile that you’ll feel Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) is beautiful.

Sohum Shah plays the adult Vinayak, who becomes obsessed with unearthing Hastar’s treasure. Slowly and steadily, Vinayak’s obsession turns him into a cold-blooded opportunist and Shah fills in a great deal of grey shades into the performance. His snigger, his eyes and even his limp become emotional cursors for the audience to despise him. It’s a performance par excellence. In perfect sync are the film’s technical departments. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography captures the wide landscapes of Tumbbad to great effect. Nitin Zihani Choudhary and Rakesh Yadav’s production design has achieved exceptional results in showing the macabre world of Tummbad. Their efforts add great detail to the blood-infused setting. Jesper Kyd’s soundtrack also adds to the proverbial terror in debut director Rahi Anil Barve’s movie.Writers Mitesh Shah, Adesh Prasad, Anand Gandhi and Barve, have crafted an excellent tale. The movie serves up a good twist during the climactic portions too, one that fits perfectly with the theme. CGI, in the scenes with the monster aren’t always top grade, but that’s a minor grouse.

Tumbbad is a moody and atmospheric film. Some viewers may find the film a little too deep and disturbing, but fans of Hollywood horror films will be reminded of memorable movies in the genre like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Eraserhead (1977). This one is genuinely scary.

In-depth Analysis

Our overall critic’s rating is not an average of the sub scores below.

Critic’s Rating: 4.0/5

Indian Express

Movie Review: Tumbbad

An ancient myth. A hideous demon. Hidden treasure. Human greed. This potent mix is stirred and ground in Tumbbad, and the result is a highly unusual, visually stunning, richly atmospheric concoction of genres and themes: horror, fantasy, social, period. I also found echoes of folk-tales, not your cosy happy-ever after kinds, but the ones that leave you distinctly uneasy. Remember the one with the gingerbread man with his button eyes? He’s always given me the shivers. Tumbbad, which features a variation made out of flour, an ‘aate ki gudiya’ which fulfills a singular purpose, does too.

The film, which has an imprint of a short story by folklorist Narayan Dharap, opens in the early 1900s, and goes on till just past Independence. Tumbbad, a village in Maharashtra, is home to a young widow ( Malshe) with two sons. She takes care of an old man, a mysterious older woman who needs chaining, and a precious metal object. A tragedy forces the family to leave the village and re-locate to Poona, but the older boy never forgets the stories he has heard, and keeps returning to his eternally doomed village, in search of the treasure.

At one level, you can see Tumbbad as a film about insatiable greed and the consequences thereof. At another, it digs, literally and metaphorically, deeper: are humans ever satisfied; is enough ever enough? Greed, it shows us, turns men into monsters. That is true horror.

The two-faced Januses some humans can be seen in Vinayak (Shah). He is a complex creature, showing that he does care for his ‘aai’ (mother), but he cares equally if not more about money, and the things it can buy. Shah plays him with complete conviction, showing us his weary life-long struggle with want and need. Equally arresting is Samad as is his son, the apple which hasn’t fallen far from the tree, in the way his eyes light up with lust and greed.

I’m routinely petrified in horror films, and to begin with, when Tumbbad shows us a dark corridor, and a creature who may have been there for centuries (‘budhiya’, she is called, but how many centuries she’s been buried under dirt, and dust, and putrid soars is left to our imagination), I confess I did close my eyes.

The tropes are standard– darkness, the play of light and shadow, strange noises off, and the hideous monster– but lensed with enough painterly craft that they are lifted. After a point though, the guttural utterances of the creature become too much, and the film becomes a bit too muddled for its own good.

The film becomes more interesting when the grown Vinayak starts building a love-hate relationship with his doomed, permanently rain-soaked village. He is a man increasingly intoxicated by wealth; he likes earthly pleasures (witness the two women in his life; the wide-eyed wife, and the lush mistress) as much as he likes lowering himself below the surface to acquire that wealth, with a skill only he knows.

The period is beautifully re-created, each element in its place without exaggeration, especially in the glimpses of Poona society of the time: how Brahmin men like Vinayak and his rotund partner-in-crime (Damle) rule the world, and how women exist to serve their needs. By the time his own son, who has a fault in his foot but none whatsoever in his brains, comes into his own, the British overlords are on their way out, leaving behind a torn and bloody country, and the film heads towards a climax which makes up for its unsatisfactory passages.

By the time it ends, you feel like you’ve seen something of scale, something both lofty and grand, as well as curdled and frightening. Clearly, debutant director Barve has a distinct voice. Tumbbad is a gorgeous looking, intriguing morality tale which both entrances and repulses: it’s not something I will forget.

Critic’s Rating: 3.5/5

Hindustan Times

Movie Review: Tumbbad

The rain never stops in the town of Tumbbad. It is an accursed land because it holds a temple to an accursed god — a god so wretched that his name must not be spoken — and yet this god holds gold, which is why the temple exists, and why this curse is wilfully borne by the greedy as they brave the un-drought and seek damned riches.

Directed by Rahi Anil Barve and shot by the incredible Pankaj Kumar, Tumbbad is a visually startling film that seeks to surprise instead of scare. It plays out like a Panchatantra tale narrated by a drunk and inappropriate uncle, a story that has a very simple moral core — this one is about golden eggs and golden geese — but has bits that get under the skin. This is not a horror movie, nor does it create a particularly substantial myth, but the little gothic details are delicious.

I fell in love with the locks. Gates in the town of Tumbbad are closed with these intricate dungeon-style locks, great big devices with jagged bear-trap edges, locks that look like they could kill you if you opened them wrong. We see the fortress through a timelapse sequence that remains exclusively, oppressively overcast, rain bouncing off the forbidding front-facing spikes of the gate, like an iron maiden left ajar.

It is a world few would brave. Barve’s first feature is an ambitious one, artistic and attentively made, reminding me of the trippystylings of filmmaker Tarsem Singh. Singh always gave us something to gape at, and Barve pulls off tremendous visual flourishes. The earth at the temple’s core is scarlet and has the texture of a melting candle, a superb contrast to the gleaming gold coins. The vermillion villain looks like the nightmarish Rascar Capac from the Tintin story The Seven Crystal Balls. The atmospherics are laid on so thick I wish the film didn’t have a background score.

The film often feels like overkill, trying too hard to captivate us when we’re already intrigued. Tragically, the characters are less imaginative than the images. Based on the stories of Marathi horror writer Narayan Dharap — the title coming from Shripad Narayan Pendse’s novel Tumbadche Khot — Tumbbad is the story of a boy who grows up obsessed with the temple’s treasure. As he grows up, he finds a way to get it, coin by coin, lowering himself deeper into the forbidden abyss as he, like a storyteller, mines the myth.

Set from 1913 to 1947, the period detailing is authentic as well as fanciful. There are boys with tikis, a grotesque old woman who looks like an outtake from Mad Max: Fury Road, and a ponytailed moneylender who has a sign on his door that requests the visitor to ring the bell only once because the inhabitants are not deaf. The protagonist Vinayak, played by an impressive Sohum Shah, smiles at this and promptly rings it twice.

The story becomes exasperatingly concentric, as Vinayak gets addicted to narrow escapes and keeps going back to the temple for more. The film thus finds itself in a loop as we see it play out for over thirty years, a short story told by a longform narrator. I marvelled at things, but also yawned.

Critic’s Rating: 3.0/5

First Post

Movie Review: Tumbbad

When I was a child I used to imagine that there is a ghost in every commode, monsters under the bed,  and that if you looked hard enough into the inky black night, especially up in the mountains, you would see the spectre of a white man from the colonial era about whom I had heard from an older relative (although shesaid the spirit descends from a ceiling calling out the words “Van Ross I’m coming”).

There is no foreigner among the primary players in Tumbbad. What we have instead is a wizened and diseased Indian grandmother, a frightened mother and two little children. When we meet them somewhere in rural Maharashtra about three decades before Independence, the mother is nursing the old woman while the kids puzzle over the mysterious goings-on in the shadowy innards of their decrepit habitation. They know that their parent is terrified of something, but they do not know for sure what it is. Looming in the background of their lives is a massive ancestral dwelling in the village of Tumbbad and a treasure they are not allowed to mention.

The air is ominous, and everything that follows serves to build up the sense of unease that settles in with the first shot. India wins her freedom from the British and the older son grows into a man (played by Ship of Theseus and Simran‘s Sohum Shah) still burning with curiosity about the fate that befell his family when he was a child and what that treasure could do for him.

As someone who derives immense masochistic pleasure from getting startled by the horror genre, I have to confess I draw the line at zombie flicks and other works that do not rest on intelligent mind games but seek to creep us out with oozing pustules, crumbling monsters and festering wounds. I therefore settled into watching Tumbbad with considerable trepidation from the moment I saw an introductory shot of a decaying foot. Yet, curiously enough, although this film does have a fair share of bloodied and rotting bodies, there is nothing gory or visually repulsive  about it. In fact, it soon becomes clear that director Rahi Anil Barve is not aiming at repelling the audience as much as leaving us spooked out and fascinated. DoP Pankaj Kumar (Ship of Theseus, Haider) evidently shares his vision since he shoots the film’s creatures cleverly, mostly in dim settings and without allowing his camera to stare at them for long, working far more on the power of suggestion than the spoonfed visual and greatly complemented by the sound – surprisingly understated for this genre – and production design.

Equally surprisingly understated are the performances of this excellent cast. Shah leads the charge, displaying his versatility by comfortably combining an alluring handsomeness with the slimy aspect of his character, in a role far removed from his niceness as the leading lady’s beau in Simran.

Although Tumbbad is not a big film in conventional terms, in the sense that it features no superstars and is not flashy, it has certainly been mounted on a lavish scale. Kumar’s cinematography contributes to the feeling of largeness, as does the art design. In terms of its images, it has been laid out like a triptych, with Segment 1 of the canvas dominated by the hero’s living quarters which gradually metamorphose from a humble home into a semi-luxe Raja Ravi Varma painting; the second are the vast misty landscapes he traverses (which reminded me of the magnificence of Ship of Theseus); and third, a mysterious blood red arena.

Produced by Sohum Shah himself in association with Anand L “Tanu Weds Manu” Rai, Tumbbad is written by Mitesh Shah, Adesh Prasad, Barve himself and Ship of Theseus‘ director Anand Gandhi. The credits tell us that it has been inspired by the works of the late Marathi horror specialist Narayan Dharap. The end result of this collaboration is a somewhat indefinable film. Greed is the overriding theme. On the face of it, it is a horror flick with a folksy feel, a sort of fantastical desi retelling of The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs. Yet when at one point the leading man goes hunting for hidden gems, he enters what appears to be the pulsating insides of an orifice in a human body, giving Tumbbad its allegorical resonance. Is he in a cave or within the mind of another being or…? It could be one or more of many options.

The joy of watching Tumbbad comes from the fact that Barve and his co-writers offer no answers, making this a delightfully intriguing film.

Critic’s Rating: 3.0/5


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