Director: Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi
Cast: Sohum Shah, Anita Date, Jyoti Malshe, Deepak Damle, Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jogalekar, Mohammad Samad
Imagination is a fascinating thing. It can conjure up and create a world we can visit, inhabit anytime, anywhere, with someone we know or create.
It’s like a vacation house we take flight to, when the reality gets too much, or too dull. Or, well, just for our jollies. Here we can be what we want, do what we want, stay for as long as we want.
We all live a bit in these imagined spaces, adding to the story, taking it further, introducing twists, characters, scenarios. Some of these are completely our own, while others date back to a story someone read to you, or you read and visualised yourself.
Imagine if someone were to recreate your imagined world, complete with its characters, colours, stories and all the emotions attached to each space and twist, and invite you to visit.
Based on the story by Marathi writer Narayan Dharap, Tumbbad is a flight of fantasy that tells a moral tale of greed. Set in a mythical, imagined world that’s brought to life and haunted by a lore, a curse, a khazana, greedy brahmins and the whispers they create around it.
It’s 1918 and we are in Tumbbad, a wet, medieval, gloomy village that is lush but lonely. It’s beauteous and a river runs through it, but is also cursed by constant, incessant rain.
A formidable wada (a tradition mansion) stands in what looks like the middle of nowhere where a frail old brahmin is taken care of and serviced by a bald widow in a red sari.
Aai, who has two sons, also takes care of the other occupant of the house — Dadi.
One of them is cursed, chained and fed once a day. From behind the closed, and the asthamatic, creepy talk, it seems that the cursed one is also the keeper of a secret.
Aai’s older son, Vinayak Rao (played by young Dhundiraj Prabhakar Jogalekar), is after the secret and the sone ki mudra that sits in wada. But tragedy strikes and the film takes a 14-year leap to Pune where Vinayak Rao (Sohum Shah), now a married man, is still dreaming of returning to Tumbbad to look for the hidden khazana.
The scene when he returns to find Dadi has been imagined and then created, or simulated, with the dedication and artistry of a master artist. And the film’s writers, directors, Ajay-Atul and Jesper Kyd (music) along with Pankaj Kumar (cinematography) give it the love it deserved.
Like several other scenes in the film, it is eerily stunning and will forever stay in some corner of your brain.
Vinayak Rao is in a business arrangement with Raghav (Deepak Damle), where one brings gold coins, and the other encashes them. Rao is now a very rich man who splits his day and night between his wife and mistress.
But greed is not just infectious. It is also the devil.
Two men now head to Tumbbad. One to look for the khazana, the other to lay a deadly trap.
Another jump, this time of 15 years to 1947. Rao, who is now ageing, is training his son (played brilliantly by Mohammad Samad) in the art of quick retrieval. But his son, who has a clubfoot, has other plans. And greed, it seems, grows exponentially with each passing generation.
The first draft of Tumbbad’s screenplay was written in 1997. It was presented to Sohum Shah (who has produced the film along with several others, including Anand L. Rai), some years later, and then worked on by four writers — Mitesh Shah, Adesh Prasad, Rahi Anil Barve and Anand Gandhi.
Tumbbad was first directed by Anand Gandhi (who made Ship of Theseus), and then by Rahi Anil Barve, and the journey, since shooting began to the film’s arrival in theatres, has been six long years.
That Tumbbad is a labour of love, realised at a stunning scale is apparent in almost every scene. The film’s plotting, complete with devious twists, is very good and is in step with its makers’ grand vision to elevate the fantasy-horror genre from its usual B-grade stature to A.
Tumbbad has excellent performances, sumptuous visuals, delightful attention to detail, and adds lovely accessories to scenes — like Rao’s twin daughters — that create a world that feels lived in. But it’s when Tumbbad, quite literally, drops down to the veiny, throbbing womb of the Devi to meet her first born, Hastar, that the beauty of horror invades all our senses.
Not since the 1977 Italian film Suspiria, directed by Dario Argento (father of Asia Argento), have I felt engulfed and trapped by bloody red like I did while watching Tumbbad.
Tumbbad has both, the beauty and horror of imagination, and it stalks you gently, long after you’ve left the theatre....