When talking about the themes of Tumbbad, creative director Anand Gandhi said, “My idea behind Tumbbad was to use the horror as an allegory of toxic masculinity and parochialism.” He further spoke about the historical privilege afforded to men through societal structures, where birth alone bestowed social advantages, property control, and moral authority.
What came out of Gandhi and his team’s efforts is Tumbbad (2018), a tale of conjuring and horror, where ancestral worship births a cycle of insatiable greed. Tumbbad is a cursed village harbouring Hastar, an ancient demon god condemned to be forgotten, susceptible to exploitation by men who think they can outwit Gods. The film scrutinises this patriarchal system, revealing how some wield power to violate the fundamental rights of those who are marginalised, perpetuating horrors upon the oppressed.
In 1993, Rahi Anil Barve first conceived the idea that would later become Tumbbad. Four years later, at age of 18, Barve had the first draft of the story. The film would go on floors ultimately in 2012. Yet, even after one round of shooting and even editing, Barve and his producer, Sohum Shah, felt dissatisfied. The film underwent a substantial transformation and a final round of shooting was done in May 2015. Tumbbad's journey ended up spanning over two decades of persistence. No wonder it’s such an exquisite blend of visual grandeur and cultural richness.
Brought to life by a cast that included Sohum Shah, Jyoti Malshe, Anita Date-Kelkar, Ronjini Chakraborty, Tumbbad achieves commendable feats. Its world-building, though not without flaws, remains convincingly immersive, especially when you keep in mind that it was made within a modest budget of Rs. 5 crores. The most terrifying moment in the film is when Vinayak tricks Raghav (Deepak Damle) into entering the womb. The fear of what awaits inside clutches you. As Raghav stands at the centre of the pulsating womb, the audience is left at the edge of their seats in anticipation and dread. We watch Hastar attack Raghav, turning him into a monster. We witness Vinayak’s scheming betrayal. Greed will turn all of us into monsters.
Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar, and the Production Designers Nitin Zihani Choudhary and Rakesh Yadav wield their artistic prowess, elevating Tumbbad in every scene. The film navigates the shifting landscapes of our country – from feudalism, to colonisation, and then the emergence of a young capitalist society. Tumbbad serves as a chilling exploration of societal power dynamics through a tale set not in a dystopian future but in an uncanny past spanning 1918 to 1947, seen through the lens of a genre film that goes beyond supernatural elements, revealing our persistent human flaws. The score by Jesper Kyd is able to create an atmosphere of dread and suspense without relying on the typical jump scares. The lashing rain contributes to the sound design — the score like the rain in Tumbbad is persistent and unrelenting.
At the end of Tumbbad, Vinayak and his son embark on a final journey to the womb armed with many flour dough dolls to keep Hastar occupied while they steal his bottomless bag of gold. Their strategy takes an unexpected turn as numerous manifestations of Hastar surface, one for each of the flour dolls in their possession. Vinayak succumbs to his fate and his son finally decides to put an end to the cycle of greed. The monsters portrayed may fall short of the imagined horrors, but as the credits roll a profound realisation dawns — the real monsters are in the hearts of men.