Tumbbad movie review: A visually rich story of greed and gold
Tumbbad movie review: Director Rahi Anil Barve’s first feature is more of a visual feast than a narrative achievement.
Director - Rahi Anil Barve
Cast - Sohum Shah, Harish Khanna
Rating - 3/5
The rain never stops in the town of Tumbbad. It is an accursed land because it holds a temple to an accursed god — a god so wretched that his name must not be spoken — and yet this god holds gold, which is why the temple exists, and why this curse is wilfully borne by the greedy as they brave the un-drought and seek damned riches.
Directed by Rahi Anil Barve and shot by the incredible Pankaj Kumar, Tumbbad is a visually startling film that seeks to surprise instead of scare. It plays out like a Panchatantra tale narrated by a drunk and inappropriate uncle, a story that has a very simple moral core — this one is about golden eggs and golden geese — but has bits that get under the skin. This is not a horror movie, nor does it create a particularly substantial myth, but the little gothic details are delicious.
Watch the Tumbbad trailer here
I fell in love with the locks. Gates in the town of Tumbbad are closed with these intricate dungeon-style locks, great big devices with jagged bear-trap edges, locks that look like they could kill you if you opened them wrong. We see the fortress through a timelapse sequence that remains exclusively, oppressively overcast, rain bouncing off the forbidding front-facing spikes of the gate, like an iron maiden left ajar.
It is a world few would brave. Barve’s first feature is an ambitious one, artistic and attentively made, reminding me of the trippystylings of filmmaker Tarsem Singh. Singh always gave us something to gape at, and Barve pulls off tremendous visual flourishes. The earth at the temple’s core is scarlet and has the texture of a melting candle, a superb contrast to the gleaming gold coins. The vermillion villain looks like the nightmarish Rascar Capac from the Tintin story The Seven Crystal Balls. The atmospherics are laid on so thick I wish the film didn’t have a background score.
The film often feels like overkill, trying too hard to captivate us when we’re already intrigued. Tragically, the characters are less imaginative than the images. Based on the stories of Marathi horror writer Narayan Dharap — the title coming from Shripad Narayan Pendse’s novel Tumbadche Khot — Tumbbad is the story of a boy who grows up obsessed with the temple’s treasure. As he grows up, he finds a way to get it, coin by coin, lowering himself deeper into the forbidden abyss as he, like a storyteller, mines the myth.
Set from 1913 to 1947, the period detailing is authentic as well as fanciful. There are boys with tikis, a grotesque old woman who looks like an outtake from Mad Max: Fury Road, and a ponytailed moneylender who has a sign on his door that requests the visitor to ring the bell only once because the inhabitants are not deaf. The protagonist Vinayak, played by an impressive Sohum Shah, smiles at this and promptly rings it twice.
The story becomes exasperatingly concentric, as Vinayak gets addicted to narrow escapes and keeps going back to the temple for more. The film thus finds itself in a loop as we see it play out for over thirty years, a short story told by a longform narrator. I marvelled at things, but also yawned.
Remember the scene in the classic comedy Pyaar Kiye Jaa where Mahmood narrates a horror film to Om Prakash? The story wasn’t much but the sound effects were spectacular. Tumbbad is a bit like that — which really isn’t a bad thing. Barve is a director with vision and a voice, and his film will undoubtedly spawn a cult of admirers. And, ideally, imitators. If there’s one thing Tumbbad has to say, it is that all gods need believers.
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