All gods need believers
The rain never stops in Tumbbad. It is an accursed land, with a temple to an accursed god. This god has gold, so the temple exists, its curse wilfully borne by those who brave the un-drought, seeking the damned riches.
Directed by Rahi Anil Barve and shot by the incredible Pankaj Kumar, Tumbbad is visually startling. It feels like a Panchatantra tale narrated by a drunk uncle, a simple moral fable — about golden eggs and golden geese — with bits that get under the skin. It isn’t scary nor creates a substantial myth, but has delicious gothic details.
I loved the locks. Gates are closed with intricate dungeon-style locks, great big devices with jagged bear-trap edges, locks that could kill you if you opened them wrong. We see the fortress through a timelapse sequence that remains exclusively, oppressively overcast, rain trickling down the front-facing spikes of the gate, like an iron maiden left ajar. It is a world few would brave. Barve’s debut is reminiscent of the trippy stylings of filmmaker Tarsem Singh. Like Singh, Barve gives us much to gape at. The earth at the temple’s core has the texture of a melting red candle, superbly contrasting the gleaming gold coins. The vermillion villain looks like Rascar Capac from the Tintin story The Seven Crystal Balls. The atmospherics are so thick I wish the film didn’t have a background score. The characters are less imaginative than the visuals. Based on the stories of Marathi writer Narayan Dharap, Tumbbad is about a boy obsessed with treasure. Growing up, he finds it coin by coin, lowering himself deeper into the forbidden abyss as he, like a storyteller, mines the myth. The story gets concentric, as the protagonist (an impressive Sohum Shah) keeps going back for more. The film stretches from 1913 to 1947, a short story told by a longwinded narrator.
Remember the comedy Pyaar Kiye Jaa where Mahmood narrated a horror film to Om Prakash? The story wasn’t much; the sound effects were spectacular. Tumbbad is a bit like that, which isn’t bad. Barve has genuine vision, and his film will spawn a cult of admirers. And, ideally, imitators. As Tumbbad shows, all gods need believers. (A full version of this review can be found at hindustantimes.com)
A still from Tumbbad.