Cast: Sohum Shah, Mohammad Samad
Director: Rahi Anil Barve
Tumbbad, named after a coastal village in Maharashtra where it rains all year round, is many things at once. It has elements of horror and fantasy, it’s a monster movie, there’s a search for hidden treasure, and it also works as a parable about the consequences of endless greed. Frankly it’s a lot to take in, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Director Rahi Anil Barve and co-director Adesh Prasad execute their staggering vision with minimal compromise. Marrying the mythology of disgraced demon god Hastar, with a real-world narrative about a family whose three generations have plundered his cursed wealth, the story spans some thirty years, beginning in 1918 and culminating shortly after Independence. The film is shot and mounted handsomely; the evocative camerawork and remarkable production design contribute to a textured and atmospheric portrait of a mysterious, macabre world.
The imagery on screen is astounding. From the lushness of the rain-soaked outdoors to the claustrophobic recesses of the sprawling, ancestral home that hides more than one creepy secret, we get a varied canvas. A number of scenes in the film’s second half unfold in a live ‘womb’, and these portions are especially impressive for the sheer imagination and inventiveness on display.
Sohum Shah is in solid form as Vinayak, the film’s protagonist, and a man at the centre of an all-consuming cycle of greed. Mohammad Samad turns in a credible performance as his young son, who appears to have inherited his father’s worst qualities.
Tumbbad is scary in portions, there are moments that are grotesque to say the least, and a shroud of impending tragedy hangs over the characters’ heads throughout. The moral at the heart of the story – that nothing good ever came out of greed – isn’t particularly original, but nicely links the folklore and reality threads of the story.
Above everything else this is a wildly original film with a look and feel that is of the highest standard. The middle portion is long drawn and flabby, and there were times I found myself scratching my head unable to keep up. But these are minor grumblings. Tumbbad employs the mythology of the monster and the curse as a kind of allegory for the history of India. It’s a big, bold idea that it doesn’t entirely pull off, but you have to admire the ambition.
If you have an appetite for the experimental, give this film a chance. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.