‘Tumbbad’review: the demons of the mind

Tumbbad starts off with a sense of the unknown that is overwhelmingly suffocating. A young widow, her two sons, the grand matriarch handed over to their care and and the patriarch in the huge wada (family mansion), the custodian of its many hidden secrets and treasures. Add to that the rural, period Maharashtra ambience, the Konkani Brahmin culture and class, caste and gender exploitation underlined with a strange, Gothic dread and the unrelenting gloom of incessant rain. Fear has a location in the film—a place called Tumbbad. Even as you want to run far away from it, a sense of curiosity and anticipation pull you back and make you linger on, in the consuming, smothering disquietude that defines it.

As a young boy Vinayak (Sohum Shah) is forced to leave Tumbbad and its darkness behind. As an adult, he voluntarily goes back and embraces it. His life and being is derived from Tumbbad and its wada. The film is remarkable in the way the moodiness, the atmosphere, and landscape are harnessed to create an eerie expectancy of the diabolical. Each shot feels like a painting, beautiful yet throbbing with an incipient fear. The film is many kinds of stories and storytelling rolled into one. There is the mythology of the Goddess and her womb; the legend of her firstborn beloved infernal son Hastar and the constant duel between two things most valued by humans—gold and food. At another level, Tumbbad is the fantasy of a treasure hunt. All this set against the backdrop of pre-Independent India, on the cusp of getting freedom. And an oft-repeated supernatural reminder, “So jaa varna Hastar aa jaayega(go to sleep or else Hastar will come)”.

  • Director(s): Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi, Adesh Prasad
  • Cast: Sohum Shah, Harish Khanna, Ronjini Chakraborty, Anita Date
  • Storyline: Though Vinayak is forced to leave Tumbbad as a kid, he returns to dive deep into the secrets of its wada (mansion)
  • Run time: 104 minutes

Hastar is the character on whom the moral fable gets centred. His curse may seem like a blessing in disguise to Vinayak, but it’s the eventual nemesis. The raising of Hastar’s head marks the descent into greed in man that will prove to be his ultimate undoing. The film is also about the perpetuation of the transgression – greed is an inheritance passed on in generations, but from the father to the son. Women just stay on the margins and take care of the home. Add a Nathuram Godse reference and the Mahatma Gandhi quote at the start of the film — “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed”—and yet another layer is added to the parable.

These metaphorical meanings may seem to add to the film’s richness but as the film progresses you also feel the makers are biting off more than they can chew. Things get needlessly complicated and confusing at points. The subplot in the middle—with Vinayak’s mistress—may add to the patriarchal angle but gets treated by the makers like a needless divergence, one which hampers the progress of the narrative rather than propelling. The CGI monsters, the visual effects, the cavernous, red womb and blood and gore—elements of the genre films get married to our indigenous folk tales. As the film progresses the explanatory begins to replace the enigmatic while you long for the shadowy, invisible demons of the mind lurking in the moody frames at the start of the film.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 5:54:28 PM |

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