Netflix’s Ghoul introduced us to a kind of horror that was very uncharacteristic for what we have been used to in Bollywood. There were none of the distracting tropes that acted merely as fillers until the next jump-scare. Ghoul’s unremitting personality pulled us into its dystopian gloom through its atmosphere that was layered deliciously over the ancient evil that lurked in the dungeons of the torture cells. It was the underlying theme, however, that is the real horror here where a caustic anti-semitic emotion has ripped a nation apart and authoritarian theocracy has filled its jails with religious prisoners, leaving them there to rot in their own blood. It is this inhuman evil that begets the titular Ghoul who shows the perpetrators that real evil does not discriminate and that there’s an uncomfortable equality in horror. This is the kind of horror that tends to stay with you long after you have left the theatre. You cannot really make up your mind if it was just the ghost that scared you, or it was something else.
Directed by debutantes Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad, Tumbbad takes you deep into the hinterland of Maharashtra in a time when superstition and ignorance held sway. The story begins with a prelude to an age-old lore about an ancient Goddess called Devi who is hailed as the provider of gold and grain. She is also proclaimed as the mother to the 16 crore deities that we worship today. Devi’s last born son Hastar was not to be as benevolent as his mother. The Devil’s incarnate, Hastar tried to usurp all the gold and grain provided by Devi for himself. Having succeeded in capturing the power of gold, Hastar proceeded to capture the power of grain but was stopped by the deities and the Dev mother, who put a curse on him that he would live in eternal damnation, powerless and hungry. That is until he is hailed to return fueled by the greed of the overlords of Tumbbad who build a temple for Hastar.
The last overlord, now an old man, holds the secret to Hastar’s gold and promises wealth to his caretaker who is a poor brahmin woman. There are darker secrets at play though. The caretaker harbours a cursed in her hut where she lives with her two sons, both progenies of the overlord himself. After the overlord’s death and an accident with the younger boy, the caretaker and her elder son leave Tumbbad for Pune. Years later, the son Vinakayak returns to Tumbbad looking for the treasure. Greed and Lust flow through his veins as he carries on the legacy of his forefathers. The legacy that is tied to Hastar’s gold, right from the proverbial womb of the desecrated goddess Devi. However, age soon catches on with him and the task becomes too tedious. But the flow of gold must not stop. He trains his boy in the machinations of the undertaking before the secret died with him. Father and son set out for a final stake-out, but for that they would have to confront the evil.
Also read: What does Tumbbad mean
Tumbbad flows like a del Toro-esque tale where the distinction between the monster and the human condition is no more than a blurry line. With the elements that it employs, Tumbbad is a treat for horror purists.
Tumbbad’s thrives on the dark, rain-lashed landscape where the ruins of the wada stand amidst rolling hills. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography has a mystical element to it that is reminiscent of the muted colours of films like The Witch. A pre-independence era Pune sees a fitting resurgence as well where Vinayak’s riches grow in his homestead. Ajay-Atul’s background score creates a haunting ensemble that adds yet another layer of mystery to the story. Sohum Shah is fierce as Vinayak is the prodigal bastard son who is captivated by the gold coins and is motivated enough to keep going back into the grisly darkness of the womb. The cold matter-of-fact routine with which he carries the task knowing very well that the thing down there could rip him to shreds, keeps you at the edge of your seat.
Greed drives three generations into the catacombs, notwithstanding the horror that becomes a side-note slinking into the shadows from time to time. Tumbbad flows like a del Toro-esque tale where the distinction between the monster and the human condition is no more than a blurry line. With the elements that it employs, Tumbbad is a treat for horror purists. The future of horror as a genre in Bollywood is in good hands.