Aaa Kood, Isme Khajana Chhupa Hai
– Om Dar-B-Dar(1988)
Tumbbad has all the things that make me run amok to the movies: a strong premise (mysterious treasure, an old fort almost always drenched in rain), curious looking characters, an evocative mood, technically brilliant looking frames, and horror which looked screamingly original and Indian. And being from Rajasthan, the Khajana and Kila/Mandir connection only made it more irresistible.
The film opens with a quirky animation imagery, a legend told of a Goddess of Plenty and her sons, of one called Hastar and how greed got the better of him. I was reacting to the images and the story and was hypnotized in the narration. We then see a poor family living in the shadows of a crumbling empire. It is all a very Marathi setting, in the accents, in the shaved-headed family members. The film just roars in this section(Chapter 1- 1920). The images that I saw will stay with me for long: a cart moving frantically in falling rain, a funeral on pensive river waters (the body almost looking like a fever dream mural from Frida Kahlo), two kids sitting on the periphery of a hut and the wide expanse of what looked like an outback presenting an ominous mood, and many such frames. I can’t recall when did I see so many brilliant frames in any Indian film, maybe Om Dar Ba Dar long back, but that was more in the realm of magic realism. Not that there haven’t been technically fine films made, there have been many(Priyadarshan, Maniratnam, Santosh Sivan and many a Malayalam & Tamil master craftsmen), but Tumbbad makes it all feel so fresh and so original. It reminded me of Guillermo del Toro’s claustrophobic yet stark universe.
The plot moves on to cover social evils, prevalent practices, religious sanctity, a strong belief and celebration of a pluralistic concept of God, with a goofy worldview of political developments in a pre-Independence India. But the film loves its monsters too. And the horror sequences are delightfully wide-eyed yet unrelenting. No efforts are spared in this department. It is like Dadima’s tales coming to life. Of mythical monsters deep-seated beneath the Earth, of forts housing treasures unknown, of evil practically living feeding and breathing in a dark corner of the last house, speaking a bit like Captain Russell from Lagaan (equally frightful).
Chapter 2 brings us the magnetic Sohum Shah, the blend is almost flawless, you are not explained everything, but this film never does anyway. The embracing the monster part is done very black comedy, I almost remembered Shaun of the Dead, and some classic zombie films, and the large cryptic box reminded me of The Strain. After this point, and some memorable imagery and sequences later, the film does veer off to some tough social evil and political premise build up. And gets quite demanding, especially if you are looking for horror.
We are introduced to Vinayak’s son, who then becomes the axis of evil/greed of sorts, taking over from his father.
From then on and Chapter 3, it is the plot coming full circle, which is part parable, part fantasy, and pure mindfuckery. You would imagine the director(Rahi Anil Barve) would go all out at this moment and confront the demons, so to say. But what you get is a poignantly mounted payoff, part predictable and part dissatisfying. You could draw parallels and metaphors as you like. I focused more on the frames than what the plot points were implying.
Towards the final pay off, the horror fan in me jumped with joy, and the cinema fan rejoiced too. If I talk specifically of the horror element, it is more The Witch or It Comes at Night, or even The Wailing than let’s say The Conjuring. It is quite a rare feat still(especially in this new awakening of Indian mythology inspired horror) and though I could use some more bold content(it felt like they were compromised for a mainstream release, and that did make me feel shorthanded on the wild side of the film, if you go crazy you should go full throttle, I needed more screams, shrieks, blood, and skulls, and maybe few more of those awkward domestic scenes and some good old Kila horror), but yeah, for the most part, Tumbbad got it just damn right. I don’t mind a sequel called Tumbbad 2: Crypt ki Kahaaniyan. I will see myself out.