For as long as he can remember, Vinayak’s mother has cared for his grandmother, a mysterious old woman his father keeps hidden away in their remote home, who Vinayak has never seen and is told does nothing but sleep. After Vinayak’s supposedly wealthy father dies, his mother resolves to move away at once, but not before giving one last meal to the old woman. But when Vinayak’s brother is injured his mother takes him to get him help, and it falls on Vinayak to feed his grandmother. To his surprise what he finds in her room is not a woman, but a demon who tricks him into getting closer to her with promises of treasure. Vinayak is barely able to escape with his life and puts her back to sleep. With both his father and brother now dead, Vinayak’s mother makes him promise to never return to the city of Tumbbad, but the seed of temptation has now been planted….
Fourteen years later Vinayak returns to his childhood home to find his demon grandmother still sleeping, a tree growing from her chest. Now fully subdued, Vinayak is able to get the secret of the family treasure out of his demon grandmother, but only after he promises to kill her after he’s found it. But she warns him, in the secret to his family’s hidden wealth lies a terrible curse, one that has plagued their family for generations.
Their second most terrible curse is the crippling toenail fungus.
Tumbbad is an Indian horror period piece directed by Rahi Anil Barve from 2018. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is technically a Bollywood film. But if the term Bollywood springs to mind bright colors, dancing and musical numbers, and that image makes you wanna slowly back up and run for the hills, then take a deep breath and chill thine self, cause this ain’t that kind of film. While there are some background vocals and a party that may involve some dancing, Tumbbad is instead a beautiful psychological horror fantasy, with a focus on the horrific consequences that unchecked greed can bring to an entire family.
The first thing you’ll notice about the film is how beautiful it looks. The film took six years to make, and you can tell that they used those years to make this movie look as good as they possibly could. From the first frame to the last you can tell that careful attention to detail was used in every shot. There is a high focus on centering and the ‘rule of thirds’, and while that second one may be slightly obvious and overused at times, it does help make the film look absolutely stunning. There is also a high focus on atmosphere, with the coloring and lighting to match, yet the film never suffers from the typical pitfalls of being too dark or too grungy or looking like half of it was filmed through a “mud” filter. You can still perfectly tell what’s going on, even in the dark, shadows and highlights are crisp and detailed, and while some scenes may be purposefully muted in tone, color is still used liberally throughout the production, making the film seem more rooted in reality and not someone’s attempt at recreating a Zach Snyder vibe.
In short, the film’s gorgeous, and may be one of the prettiest horror movies I’ve ever seen.
The film’s other strength is it’s original story. Some Indian cinema has the reputation of being a bit…same-y (if not an outright copy.) That’s not the case here. While the film may contain familiar elements of other stories, ranging in theme from fantasy to family dysfunction, the film is, in fact, it’s own unique tale that weaves these familiar elements into an engaging horror tale. But while it is a horror film and does contain supernatural elements, this isn’t a horror tale that relies on jump scares. The main focus of the film’s horror comes from a more psychological angle, mostly around the disintegration of the family, and how one person’s abject selfishness can negatively affect everyone around them.
Turning into a tree count’s as a negative, right?
The film’s one downside may be it’s pacing. The film is split into three parts, with all three sections focusing on separate time periods, each placed approximately 14 years apart. The first and second sections move at a pretty good clip, setting the stage and then gradually revealing the sinister secret behind Vinayak’s mysterious family treasure. But once the secret is revealed much if the tension evaporates (naturally) and things just sort of…pause for a bit. We get a time skip that focuses on Vinayak getting too old to retrieve the family treasure and having to raise his son to do it, except he has no faith in his son and…well, lets just say that the movie is pretty much forced to rebuild everything it gained in those first two parts, and while I feel it does end being successful in the end, the dip in excitement is fairly noticeable.
I was quite surprised by Tumbbad. I had avoided most Indian horror films due to their poor reputation, and while some of that reputation may be deserved, Tumbbad seems to be the exception to that rule. It’s not just a good Indian horror film, it’s a damn good horror film, period. The atmosphere is excellent, the makeup and costuming are top-notch, the acting is good, the sound is perfect, and the film looks absolutely stunning. Minus that little bit of a pacing issue at the end, I really can’t think of anything to complain about. If you like atmospheric horror tales and don’t mind the subtitles then you can’t go wrong with Tumbbad.
Tumbbad is available for streaming via Amazon Prime.
As far as I can tell, it has not been released on DVD or Bluray.