An epic Indian fable with a heart of horror, Tumbbad is one of the most unique horror films currently available on Amazon Prime. From first time directors Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi, and Adesh Prasad, Indian export Tumbbad made waves with its debut at Fantastic Fest in 2018, for good reason. Its blend of pristinely realised period setting, gorgeous location shooting, and Lovecraftian terror make it a an entrancing experience.
Based on the story ‘Aaji’ by Marathi author Narayan Dharap, Tumbbad follows the story of a family curse, a secret treasure at the heart of Tumbbad castle, and one man’s all-consuming greed. Dharap is cited as having been inspired by Western horror authors like Stephen King, and the opening act of the film is very much an adaptation of King’s story ‘Gramma’. Considering that King’s story uses Hastar, the Lovecraftian entity who appears in this film, its safe to say Tumbbad is a sleeper Lovecraft adaptation. And one of the best out there.
After a rain-soaked prologue which sees a boy terrorised by his ancient monstrous grandmother, the film leaps forward in time. Vinayak (Sohum Shah) is a grown man desperate to find the fortune of Tumbaad which cursed his grandmother years ago. He does, but we do not. The film toys with the audience, never quite showing us his full journey into the heart of the ancient disintegrating castle. What we do see is his meteoric rise in wealth, paired with sequential visits to the castle. An extravagant lifestyle unfurls as new technology and goods pour in via British invasion, his clothes become finer, and yet he still trudges through the muck to claim treasure from Tumbbad.
Spoilers suck but this film’s grotesquery is so unusually effective it deserves some comment. The eventual reveal of Vinayak’s riches is truly horrifying. More bizarre and horrifying than you could imagine. Part of that is down to the concept, part of it is down to the frankly pitch-perfect realisation of the concept. A bad monster can totally ruin a film; the list of horror films which have overexposed their central threat is long and sad, but Hastar, the forsaken and forgotten demi-god, is a perfect concoction of Indian folklore, Lovecraftian bizarro, and cinematic magic.
Again, that’s in part down to the beast itself, an uncanny mix of practical and digital, but also the space it occupies in the film, and the journey Tumbbad’s directors make us undertake to get there. Like Blair Witch, The Descent, Baskin, and a few others, Tumbbad is a film which so perfectly articulates its deep dark lost places, it’s easy to be pulled in and left there. That’s a tough thing to do, to impart genuine dread into an audience, so much so that being trapped in its bowels becomes a horrifying prospect. Perhaps not since Del Toro’s Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, has a fairy tale horror been so visceral.
Though clearly speeding through its own multiple chapters, Tumbbad is a thing to behold. Beautifully shot, crammed with stunning production design, and ultimately nightmarish, Barve, Gandhi, and Prasad have delivered an immersive and effective horror film. Beyond that they have inadvertently made a pristine Lovecraft adaptation which truly grasps the otherworldly and incomprehensible horror of gods and monsters.
Dirs. Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi, Adesh Prasad
Stars. Sohum Shah, Jyoti Malshe, Anita Date, Deepak Damle, Harish Khanna