Tumbbad takes its inspiration from the mythology of its native India. It begins with the tale of Hastar, who was offered the choice of all the gold in the world, or all the food. Of course, he tries to take both until the other gods turn on him. He’s saved, but banished, wiped from history and not to be worshiped again. Of course, the lure of all the gold in the world draws someone to do just that, with dire consequences that stretch for generations.
The story is broken into three parts, the first beginning in 1918 in the town of Tumbbad. It is run by the descendants of those who first reawakened Hastar. Sarkaar (Madhav Hari Joshi) the current head of the family has a mistress (Jyoti Malshe) and two sons by her. It is also herjob to care for his monsterous grandmother (Piyush Kaushik). Sarkar’s death sets off a chain reaction that leaves one of his sons dead and the other, Vinayak, (Dhundiraj Prabhakar Joglekar) fleeing with his mother to a nearby city.
Cut to 1933 and the now grown Vinayak (Sohum Shah) is freed from his promise never to return to Tumbbad by his mother’s death. The old woman is still alive and Vinayak confronts her over secret of the treasure. “Not everything you inherit should be claimed,” he’s told. And he should have listened, he gets what he wants, but at a terrible price.
Finally in the last episode Vinayak is a man who has everything, but enjoys nothing. It’s 1947 and time for him to train his son Pandurang (Mohammad Samad) in the family ways. The curse must be passed on.
Directors Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad put nearly eight years into the filming and editing of Tumbbad, and it shows. It’s beautifully shot with impressive practical effects, (the opening CGI is less impressive) and convincing period settings.
The script however is what really makes Tumbbad stand out. It not only manages to turn the evils of unrestrained greed into a physical horror but draws parallels between that and the British colonial rule of India. Much the way Pan’s Labyrinth weaved the realities of Franco’s Spain into it’s dark fantasy, so does Tumbbad draw parallels between the stories of its characters and the events of their time. Not getting that connection won’t ruin your enjoyment of the film however.
Tumbbad is a film that deserves to be seen. Hopefully its success will lead to more serious horror from India. There’s certainly a wealth of stories for them to draw from.
Tumbbad is available on Amazon Prime.