‘Tumbbad’ review: Into the Womb of Avarice

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

LICH rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

There’s one sure-shot way to rewrite the history of mankind and change the very course of how nations evolved—remove the layer of greed from human nature. We’ll never ever know how that would pan out, stitched as this layer is almost into our DNA somewhere. And it is this second nature to humans that is presented in a format that’s stunningly terrifying and hypnotic in Tumbbad. If Ari Aster‘s Hereditary propounded the genetics theory in horror, here directors Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, and Anand Gandhi—the last mentioned picking up the gauntlet of rewriting and reshooting the enterprise after Barve and Prasad found their initial effort lacking—span generations to track the never-ending cycle of wanting more.

Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jog walks right into the mouth of terror.
Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jog walks right into the mouth of terror.

Based on Marathi novelist Narayan Dharap‘s story and six years in production, Tumbbad is a visual treat, every unhurried frame branding itself onto your brain tissues to haunt you long after you walk out of the cinema hall. Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar uses incessant rain as the light, the backdrop, and a curtain on which you can see the plot unfold, which is just as well. For, the remote village of Tumbbad’s curse is the rain—a smart narrative anchor that ensures it seeps into every frame, burning your senses in some, while in others, creating a dank, damp space inside the sponge of your thoughts that you simply can’t squeeze out. And so it is with young Vinayak (Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jog) who’s obsessed with the treasure that’s said to be buried somewhere in the vaada (traditional mansion) in Tumbbad; it’s also here that his mother (Jyoti Malshe) goes to service the octogenarian Sarkar (Madhav Hari Joshi) in the hope that he’ll give her a glittering gold nugget someday, and that’ll free her. Plus, she’s also gotten in a dungeon-like room in her rubble-like home a grandmother she feeds for and takes care of for Sarkar. You aren’t shown who this is for some time, and the only thing you know is that she’s asleep most of the time, with a snoring sound that epitomizes ominous vibrations.

Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar creates hypnotic imagery.
Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar creates hypnotic imagery.

Amidst the crackle and snarl of rains, events unravel that leave Vinayak in the house all alone and you’re treated to some hard-to-look-away-from sheer terror, but which leaves the boy all the more convinced about the treasure. Fifteen years later, Vinayak (a superb Sohum Shah, who also produced the movie) is back to the house and the mansion for the treasure. He now has a wife (Anita Date)  at home and a covert opium dealer, Raghav (Deepak Damle) for a British officer who pays Vinayak cash for all the nuggets he gets from every trip he makes to Tumbbad.

Sohum Shah doesn't get the rain get to him.
Sohum Shah doesn’t let the rain get to him.

The movie folds up in 1947, the year India got her independence, while Tumbbad remains cursed and Vinayak, now weakened by drugs and alcohol and a mistress (Ronjini Chakraborty), has no choice but make his son Pandurang (Mohammad Samad) girdle up for whatever he does to get the nuggets. Weaving mythology, a menace who oughtn’t have been worshipped let alone invoked, and the insatiable greed that drives and becomes the raison d’être for most men—especially those who know of nothing else all their lives—the movie draws you in, whether you like it or not. Much like its characters who are hypnotized by the glitter of wealth and will go any lengths to get it to fortify their lives, you succumb to the sheer audacity of the story and its telling. The first half is the web the makers spin, and you, like the prey of an arachnoid, aren’t sure what exactly is going on. It is post interval—whose calling card is a haunting trolley shot that moves away from a man peering deep inside a box, his face and body and the torch he’s carrying slowly consumed by the darkness within—that they show you what they’ve done. They’ve spun an incredible premise and you’re at the center of it, stunned and unable to move, with no choice but let the experience awash your senses.

Tumbbad‘s horror isn’t as much external as it is inward looking and visceral. There’s so much beauty here that you realize that not all what takes your breath away need be confined to humdrum aesthetics. The movie’s canvas uses rains like the pouring of greed that lingers and perpetuates regardless of time or generation—as does Jesper Kyd‘s Hans Zimmer-like relentless score—and adds bright splotches of fire to show you the way, if only to make you feel you were better off in the darkness. An aerial shot of a home on a hillock in torrential downpour while down the hillock, in the same frame, a funeral pyre raging by a river bank, fighting against the rains, takes your breath away. Elsewhere the fire is in torches or matchsticks, lighting up just enough to show the effects of man-made avarice. But the horror never ends. The light does.

LICH ratings chart
1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Tumbbad (2018) on IMDb

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Tumbbad is rated A (Restricted to adults) There’s mild sensuality, frightening and intense sequences.

Directors Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, Anand Gandhi Running Time 1h 44min
Writers Mitesh Shah, Adesh Prasad, Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi
Sohum Shah, Deepak Damle, Anita Date, Mohammad Samad
Genres  Drama, Horror, Thriller

Watch the trailer of Tumbbad here:

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