'Tumbbad' movie review: Genre-breaker is a milestone

'Tumbbad' movie review: Genre-breaker is a milestone

A still from 'Tumbbad'.


Hindi (A)

Cast: Sohum Shah, Anita Date, Harish Khanna

Director: Rahi Anil Barve

Rating: 4/5

Most films with ghouls expect you to suspend reasoning and submit to your primal fears, while the supernatural in Tumbbad feels more like a primitive being that may deserve its own share of sympathy.

I am guessing the first thing they tell you when writing a horror movie is to make it scary. And Tumbbad fails on that count. 

But Tumbbad is not just a scary movie that is not scary. It skips over cheap thrills because it aspires to break a genre that has rarely even been bended.

A title card promises that the film will be a fable. "There's enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed: Mahatma Gandhi," it reads.

And what makes it a fable and not simply a scary story with some morality thrown in is because of how greed, on which some of the oldest stories in the Indian tradition have been written, is woven into the tapestry of a myth, which itself is woven into emergence of the independence movement in the country.

Some may find similarities between this film and Mani Kaul's Duvidha (1972) in terms of brilliant and unconventional cinematography, the study of the colour red and for telling a story where ordinary people encountering the supernatural may be scarier than the ghoul itself.

And it must be said, with much love for Kaul, that director Rahi Anil Barve tries your patience a lot less.

The real winner of the movie is the script. 'Layered' is a word critics casually throw around for film they like, but it's hard to think of another adjective for Tumbbad.

For something as simple as flour to be key to the story of the demon, while the film traces the evolution of its production, from the household of the Brahmins to mills that become places for upper and lower castes to interact, is layered writing, if nothing else.

The film is divided into "chapters", which may be a nod to the works of Narayan Dharap, whose works the film is inspired by.

Even so, the film is still acquired taste. Last week's Andhadhun had portrayed its cleverness in ways that were entirely familiar to a viewer of mainstream cinema, but Tumbbad is the sort of film that takes time to draw you out and then hit you. This unfamiliarity itself is a testament to the originality of the film.

Tumbbad is a much-needed milestone for Indian cinema.