Let me begin by saying that yes, I am late to the party. Despite the fact that Tumbbad was the first Indian film to be screened at the critics' week section of the 75th Venice International Film Festival, won over the critics, and swept away three Filmfare Awards, I missed the film when it first released.
In my defense, the film--which was also screened at 8 different international film festivals--grossed a total of ₹13.57 crores, after being released in only 575 screens. To compare, India has over 2,300 screens.
As other big-budget productions took over the theatres, Tumbbad escaped my notice - until finally, with ample time on hand, I caught the film on Amazon Prime Video.
And here's why I believe Tumbbad is a must-watch for fans of great stories, good horror, and brilliant cinematography.
Starring Sohum Shah and Mohammad Samad in lead roles, Tumbbad is a mythological horror drama, that explores the myth of Hindu demon Hastar - the first son of Goddess of Prosperity, and the symbol of boundless greed.
Hastar, the demon God, can lead you to limitless gold. But interaction with Hastar comes at a cost - a single touch of the demon can leave you cursed for life.
What follows is a single family's experience, as it encounters both, prosperity and pitfalls, across three generations, because of Hastar's curse.
For starters, Tumbbad is one of those rare films to actually dip into Indian mythology and serve a horror film that caters to the myths, superstitions, and beliefs that are similar to the folk tales we grew up reading about.
Secondly, Tumbbad moves away from films where the horror is derived from jump scares, floating girls in white clothes, and screaming witches. And here, our hero is not fighting the demon and 'saving' a town, a girl, or an old house.
Rather, the film's hero is the story that offers a glimpse into human nature. Through its hero, or rather the anti-hero, it begs the question, when afflicted by dire circumstances, would you tempt fate for a better fortune or continue to suffer?
Also, the film, without a doubt, offers one of the most beautiful, brilliant cinematography that any film has showcased in recent years.
Tumbbad--that won international awards for its cinematography, art direction, and visual effects--boasts of inspiring, almost maddening creature designs and makes for a great visual impact.
And though a rain-drenched town and old mansion form the basic setting, the picturization is spooky and gloomy without being dull or dreary.
As an audience member, this is one of those times that I wished I had the chance to see the film play out on the silver screen.
Because the fight sequences, the demon vs. human interaction, and the climactic escape from a demon's clutches are sequences where the setting played a more important role than the limited dialogues.
Tumbbad, which was made on a limited production budget of ₹5 crores, was a profitable venture but not a popular one. But it should have been.
It is truly commendable that cinematographer Pankaj Kumar, and production designers Rakesh Yadav & Nitin Zihani Choudhary, achieved stunning visual effects in a budget that is less than what many Indian filmmakers have spent purely building one set.
Comedy-horror sequels of film franchises that should have ended years ago drive the audience to the theatres.
But a film that finally explores Indian culture, and moves away from imitating foreign horror films, makes a blink and miss appearance at the Indian Box Office. And that's where the trouble lies
For an audience demanding more original and relatable content, Rahi Anil Barve's Tumbbad is your answer.