The new Indian horror-fantasy Tumbbad is a dark and dangerous story of one man’s greed for a fallen god’s gold. Like all men blinded by visions of unearned prosperity, our main character is clever but foolish enough to believe he has outsmarted the god, keeping him under control and at bay. He soon learns (as all that came before him have,) that the real horror he has been running from, has been eating him from the inside his entire life.
Tumbbad held it’s US premiere at the 2018 Fantastic Fest and was recently the first Indian film to open the Venice Film Festival. The movie is an impressive partnership between directors Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, and creative director Anand Gandhi, all of whom hold writing credits. Actor and producer Sohum Shah is also largely to thank for the creation of what is sure to be considered India’s most impressive horror movie ever. Drawing inspiration from classic gothic cinema while still remaining true to homegrown storytelling, Tumbbad is an ambitious and atmospheric tale of greed that will haunt you.
“Drawing inspiration from classic gothic cinema […] Tumbbad is an ambitious and atmospheric tale of greed that will haunt you.”
Tumbbad follows a man who has returned to his childhood home in search of the temple to a fallen god. As a child, he and his mother spend their days taking care of his grandmother who remains locked away in a dark room underground. Seems a little overboard, even for the most disagreeable family member, but we see Grandma earn her lodging after she nearly leads him to his death at the promise of treasure. He and his mother flee the land, but when he returns as an adult, he finds that his grandmother is still alive despite years of isolation and famine. Recognizing that same doomed persistence in his eyes, grandmother’s final act is to warn him of the troubles ahead, begging him to rethink his search for the star-crossed treasure.
The fallen god in Tumbbad is a reminder that something more powerful than you could imagine, would only look upon on humans pesky, insignificant play things. He is a powerful creature whose worship is an inevitable, and incurable curse. Those who enter his lair never leave. They may find themselves back home, living a life of luxury they only dreamed of but they are never the same. The person that descends down into the darkness of that god’s lair is gone, and all that remains is a pile of weary bones that have yet to find a place to rest.
Tumbbad is a horror-tinged fantasy that really, really embraces its framework. The modern “dark fairy-tale” is usually nothing more than a ghost story with some magical realism thrown in to create a blur in the film’s reality. It’s a shift I’ve been a big fan of, but it’s popularity has come at the cost of that classic tall-tale aesthetic. Giving itself over completely to that world, Tumbbad is a fable that plays as easily for children as it does for adults. As all good tales, on the surface you’ll find lessons of morality and greed, while a more mature audience will become uneasy, knowing all too well how it feels to climb down into a pit of despair, for which momentary gain is met with perpetual misery.
Fairy Tales in themselves are period pieces because they exist in a world we left behind long ago. I always find the early 1900’s a fascinating setting for modern fairy tales because it was the dawn of a new technological and scientific era that marked the demise of lore and legend. If there were ever a period that saw the end of “real-magic”, those scrappy decades at the turn of the century were certainly it. The destruction of those beliefs and the gods of an old world are mirrored brilliantly in Vinayak’s relationship with his son, and like all true fairy tales, Tumbbad is a much darker story than you would expect after a lifetime of Disney’s influence.
“A brilliant and authentically crafted story. A tale as old as time, with suspense to hollow out your mind.”
Tumbbad‘s biggest strengths come from the horror injected to it’s more fantastical elements. In real life, when Aladdin climbs down into the bowls of the genie’s cave, he would not be met with bright, comfortable cathedral spaces. His journey would look more like the dusty depths of a mummy’s cursed crypt. Claustrophobic, dark, and all together uninviting. When he comes face-to-face with that phenomenal cosmic power, he would be way too busy wetting his pants to make snippy, comedic remarks. Tumbbad follows the plot points of all folklore, fully welcoming in the darkness inherent in the story. The characters are human to a flaw, and that weakness takes them on a dark journey into inescapable horror. It’s a brilliant and authentically crafted story. A tale as old as time, with suspense to hollow out your mind.
Tumbbad celebrated its US premiere at the 2018 Fantastic Film Festival and is scheduled for release in India October 12th. The film is directed and written (in part) by Rahi Anil Barve & Adesh Prasad with performances from Sohum Shah, Harish Khannaa, Anita Date, Mohd Samad, Jyoti Malshe, Deepak Damle, Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jogalekar. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantastic Fest coverage here!