When Folklore marries Fantasy marries Fear marries Fine Imagery, you get a gorgeous Film like Tumbbad. As a very ambitious project, it wants to leave a deeply philosophical message about the horrors of greed and how it creates monsters out of humans far scarier than literal gory demons who at least have nature imposed limits they cannot cross. But the human greed is a limitless pit and man keeps falling into it again and again, not realizing how the curse is gradually engulfing him and his entire lineage leaving nothing behind to take forward.
The beauty of Tumbbad lies in how debutant director Rahi Anil Barve (along with his co director Adesh Prasad and creative director Anand Gandhi) and cinematographer Pankaj Kumar take this simple premise and convert it into visually stunning cinema using gorgeous nature frames and rich colour palettes, and create possibly the most evocative and atmospheric horror piece on Indian screen ever. Its tough not to see the deep influence of Guillermo del Toro and his brand of fantastical horror on Bavre, and how Tumbbad creates a similar cinematic universe where grotesque horror is more stunning than scary, and where monsters are used as a visual cinematic trope for effective social commentary on human evil and its darkness more than anything else. The results are effective, and the lasting impression is that of an excellent attempt to create something fresh and unique, albeit with its own set of imperfections.
The directorial team along with Mitesh Shah have also written the film, but its clear that they are more interested in using strong visuals in their narration rather than telling a completely water tight story, because frankly there are many convenient plot points that you are bound to question, and too many questions unanswered that will leave you a tad frustrated. There will be places where the debate of overwhelming style over inconsistent substance starts disturbing you. There will be places where the loud background score, or an unnecessary song will seem out of sync with the stylized frames and you’ll wish that silence was more effectively used. There will be places where you would wish that the film had further leveraged atmospherics than actual gore as the buildup to the horror. And for a film like Tumbbad, you wish that there weren’t all these places at all or they were kept to minimal.
On the pluses though, along with the stunning cinematography, some excellent editing work by Sanyukta Kaza tries to cover up for quite a lot of the writing issues although a good central part of the film still appears long drawn. Cheers to the terrific production design team as well and the brilliant period that they create around the constantly raining Tumbbad, you might end up being in awe of all the graphic symbolism depicted in everything from lanterns to locks to changing life accessories across feudal, colonial or capitalist periods. Its a smart way to say how the evil intent of greed remains equally strong and devastating across times and generations.
A lot of these technical victories would have fallen flat had Sohum Shah and especially Mohammed Samad not been so effective as the lead characters of the intriguing tale. The young boy especially is a clear scene stealer and it will be interesting to see what he does in the future. The rest of the cast somewhat pale in comparison, again mainly due to some average writing that doesn’t relieve many of them from certain unnecessary caricaturish tropes. Hastar and its converted preys will feel that burden the most.
Having said all this, there is still a lot to like in Tumbbad. An evocative visual experience like this laden with metaphorical subtext has definitely raised the bar of the horror genre in India and has earned its dedicated special fan base in its own right. And it feels great when such a niche but spectacular film gets a 70%+ occupancy on a weekday of its third week!
Guess what, greed for good cinema isn’t such a bad thing afterall!