In the belly of the beast. Tumbbad – movie review

The first Indian movie ever to open the Venice International Film Critic’s Week, Tumbbad has been described as the breakthrough horror film from India, the picture that will make Indian horror known to the West.

However, the main reason why I watched it consists of this: Tumbbad 1.1

8.6 on IMDb is an insane grade. The big question is: did the movie live up to it?

First, the plot, which is quite complex and interesting onto its own: this is an epic story that starts in the 20s and revolves around three generations of a family facing Hastar – he who must not be worshiped. Hastar is a terrible entity who can curse a person yet also can grant gold coins. When Vinayak – Bollywood star Sohum Shah – is just a kid, he finds out that his great-grandmother has been cursed to eternal life by Hastar, and she’s now eternally rotting and waiting to be fed. Vinayak finds the source of the curse and discovers, also, that by visiting Hastar’s cave he can get endless gold coins. As he grows old and moves away from the decaying village of Tumbbad, he decides to periodically come back there to get the coins: he becomes rich and builds a family, he deals with people who either exploit his wealth or try to figure out the secret behind Vinayak’s financial situation. Vinayak has a son and he, as well, must learn the ways to get Hastar’s gold.

As you could tell, this is quite a heavy story; and an original one while we’re at it, since the whole Hastar mythology is made up: the screenwriters really did an outstanding job at creating such a unique universe.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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Tumbbad opens up with a voiceover narrating this mythology, accompanied by some computer-generated images that are simply spotless: soon after, the viewer will realise the special effects in the movie are masterful, without a single shot that looks fake!

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They shot the scenes in the rain over the course of FOUR monsoons – Tumbbad

From the get-go, Tumbbad looks epic, creepy, mysterious: this comes from a combination of great story, unique visuals, and fantastic cinematography and effects. Every scene in the film – which was shot over the course of five years (!!!) – is naturally lit, which gives an impression of authenticity is hard to find in big-budget pictures nowadays. The way the CGI blends in with the locations pulls you in, to the point you feel like you’re an integral part to the story.

The acting and Vinayak’s character development are surprisingly subdued in a way that spotlessly matches the gloomy atmosphere of the film: there’s a constant sense of doom that permeates Tumbbad, even in the scenes that are supposed to be more light-hearted and uplifting.

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The CGI in Tumbbad is spotless

Despite the lack of gore and excessive blood, the movie doesn’t shy away from disturbing imagery and gross practical effects that will impress also fans of extreme horror. There are a few scenes taking place in Haster’s realm, so to speak, that will most likely make you a tad bit squeamish and uncomfortable: they reminded me of The Descent and I experienced the same level of tension and fear I had when the vampire-like creature appeared in that British film for the first time.

On top of these elements (all of which work), Tumbbad has an exotic touch to it and a multi-layered meaning that will most probably warrant multiple viewings, giving the movie an extra value in terms of rewatchability.

When it comes to the ‘exotic touch’, Tumbbad excels at portraying the historical setting with the due accuracy and can really help you putting yourself in the situation of the characters: the movie starts when India is under the British empire, it continues with the attempts at rebellion and it ends with India freed from imperialism but still trying to figure out how to balance various aspects of its society. All of that is in the background but plays a prominent role in the picture nonetheless. At the same time, throughout Tumbbad we get to experience a culture that’s very different from ours and relies on values that might seem unacceptable from a Western point of view.

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Vinayak’s family in Tumbbad

Yet, the movie foremost message revolves around greed and how it effects one’s life. However, this main and more obvious meaning nicely intertwines with the search of happiness: is a person happy enough with an eternal life of comfort or is it better to look for the next challenge? Again, this film questions family and how to be a good father, by depicting characters that feel genuine and, as such, are very flawed but, for this specific reason, also very relatable.

Although I don’t have a single issue with the story and most of the technical features in Tumbbad are flawless, I did find the overreliance on slow-motion to be very distracting and cheesy in some of the action scenes: it’s cool once, twice, but the third time you see the same technique it becomes a bit annoying. Yet, the music – which was entirely composed for the film from scratch, which is obviously impressive – didn’t always match the mood of the images and, at points, was just a bit obnoxious.

Also, a few minor characters are introduced along the way just as props to carry the story along: they appear on screen for a couple of minutes and then we never see them again. In this sense, I wish the script had found a better way to progress the events.

Finally, I wish the movie was longer: I mean, 104 minutes is quite a long runtime for a horror film but, due to the epic nature of Tumbbad, I’d have preferred to be able to give a more in-depth look at this fascinating mythology.

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In the belly of the beast…

Ultimately, Tumbbad is truly a great film that deserves the praise it’s receiving. I’m quite sure this movie will open a new chapter for Indian horror cinema and I wouldn’t be surprised if an American remake will come out within the next 5 years! Despite some minors shortcomings, I can’t stress enough how creepy, grandiose and epic this movie is: you should check it out immediately – even if you don’t usually watch subtitled or foreign horror flicks – and I promise you it’ll not be disappointing.

Tumbbad                    8.5/10