The blockbuster Indian horror film Tumbbad is shocking in its best way

Human fears are universal, but expressing these fears is different in every culture Рwhich can be fun for horror fans. There comes a point where immersing too much in the horrors of your own culture can weaken the sense of unfamiliarity and surprise on which the genre depends. Searching for culturally specific fresh glances at scary leads in another country Рsuch as in Japan The ringSpain OrphanageIceland Lambor Taiwan Spell Рallows horror fans to encounter the familiar shakes, dressed in new, vivid ways, capable of burying themselves under even the most blas̩ of skin. Along the way, they can also learn fascinating things about how many different ways the same fears can be shaped and shared.

This is one of the greatest joys Tumbbad, the stunning 2018 Rahi Anil Barve horror film in Hindi about gods, greed and blood. The raw bones of this movie are familiar enough: man succumbs to his vices, man is faced with supernatural accounting. But the specific shape this story takes, and the images used to present it, will be unknown to Western audiences. The graphic scary details hit especially hard because they are so unexpected. This is a great find for Halloween.

India has a long but relatively narrow history related to horror and Tumbbad was a hit there, probably because it is so amazing, insistent and streamlined, and at the same time so typical of Indian history, rooted in the history of the country and its specific traumas. Each of the three chapters of this story contains different main secrets and discoveries, each with a slightly different flavor of horror.

A child with a shaved head, covered in flour and drops of blood, closes his eyes and screams in the Indian horror film Tumbbad

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The first is a simple night shock tale, full of sudden shocks and macabre practical effects. The second feels much more Lovecraftian, with the protagonist consciously infecting himself with terrible knowledge and accepting the influence on his psyche. It helps that the plot revolves around a forbidden, lost god named Hastar, a name that doesn’t really come from Indian mythology, but is sure to be familiar to HP Lovecraft fans and followers even if it has been changed. And the third chapter is perfectly based on the intense jolts of the first two, with one of the most thrilling revelations modern horror has to offer. Still, it is more about creeping fear and inevitability than about terror or graphic violence.

In the first – set in 1918, against the background of Mahatma Gandhi’s early rebellions against British rule – the young brothers Winayak and Sadashiv Rao oppose poverty in the rural town of Tumbbad. They live in the shadow of a huge, decaying mansion owned by a decrepit hermit named Sarkar, who is secretly their father. But he never admitted to them or to his relationship with their mother (Jyoti Malshe) who had been his maid and mistress for decades.

Sarkar’s mansion reportedly holds a hidden family fortune. Vinayak in particular feels entitled to a share of the money, which means not only an escape from family life, but also respect and pride in the place he misses as the son of a rich man. Instead, his legacy is a secret commitment to a monstrous old woman who is chained in his home under the care of his mother. The family talks about her with horror and admiration, the way they would about a boogeyman who needs appeasement – and, as it turns out, for good reason.

A woman in a blood-red, thin, soaked sari stands in the rain in front of a covered porch where a man sits and watches in the Indian horror film Tumbbad

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The second chapter opens 15 years later, at a turbulent time for the British Rajah. Now an adult (played by Bollywood producer Sohum Shah), Vinayak returns to Tumbbad looking for a fortune he never found as a child – and an old chained woman whom he sees otherwise as an adult. Shortly thereafter, he returns to his wife in the vast, sprawling city of Pune and brings with him mysterious gold coins. Looking to sell the coins, he makes an unfortunate deal with Raghav (Deepak Damle), a friend, moneylender, and merchant who hopes to bribe himself in a lucrative opium-trading license. Both men are driven by greed and a desire to improve their position, and they both suffer from it.

The final chapter begins in 1947, not long after the Partition that shook India but barely touched Vinayak and his family. At this point, Vinayak is getting old and has to decide what to pass on to his young son who adores him and constantly tries to please him. Vinayak is reluctant to part with the family secret, but as always, his greed prevents him from rejecting the idea altogether. It all leaves behind Tumbbad it spans three generations – and therefore many, many more. Open-ended director and screenwriter Rahi Anil Barve – a question he began exploring in 1997 when he wrote his first draft of the film at the age of 18 – is what it takes to stop the cycle of greed that is destroying families and countries with equal fervor.

All three chapters work together neatly as a kind of dark tale of greed – where it comes from, how it perpetuates, and how it can act like a drug, overwhelming the senses and making its victims addicted. Shah plays Vinayak as a contemptuous, aggressive man who thinks mostly about his petty pleasures and expects everyone to serve him. He is cruel and selfish, as much a villain as the dark god his family serves.

An old man with a white walrus mustache and a pearl stands in the dark, staring at something off-screen in the Indian horror film Tumbbad

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

But Barve and his team also express some sympathy for him, considering where he came from. The fairy tale that opens the movie says that the gods cursed Tumbbad because of the Vinayaka family, and the incessant rains engulfing the place are a form of divine anger. These storms play an important role in Barve’s sharp, ghoulish images throughout the movie: Whether they’re visiting the Tumbbad mansion or huddling in their own shack, Vinayak, his mother and brother are perpetually soaked to their skin and caked in mud. (Barve says he shot the film for several years during the monsoons to get the atmosphere right.) The family doesn’t comment on the rain as it is the eternal backdrop of their lives, but they all look chilled, sparse, and on the verge of being completely washed out. It is perfectly clear why Vinayak dreams of getting away and getting rich to live the way he wants.

But Tumbbad presents a rich metaphor of how these dreams suck most of the freedom and happiness out of Vinayaka’s life, leaving him in an endless nightmare where he dwells on the cost of his wealth and holds a grudge against everyone around him who contributes to it without paying the price that pays. He cannot let go of his riches, but neither can he fully enjoy them, which leads him to ever worse excesses. A key story is happening all around him and his country suffers, changes and grows stronger, but he is isolated and isolated, focusing only on his own profit. It’s a beautifully crafted trap, built into the heart of an equally beautifully crafted story, where supernatural horrors are downright terrifying, but Vinayak is much scarier.

A man with charred black skin, blind pale eyes and decaying teeth, looks into the rain in a shot from the Indian horror film Tumbbad

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

Barve makes sure all of this goes home by presenting him with visual richness and lushness that will keep his viewers’ eyes on the screen. He shot in truly deserted rural locations to give the Tumbbad scenery a lonely yet dignified texture, and where possible relies on practical effects to give it weight. When CGI shows up, especially in the film’s explosive climax, it intentionally contrasts with the physical effects to make the action more eerie and disturbing, rather than trying to blend in with the rest of his world.

Colors in Tumbbad they are unrivaled, especially the ghostly raw reds that define Vinayaka’s mystery and its price. And the images are just as vivid, leading to unforgettable moments that even longtime horror fans have not seen before on screen. All horror movies are supposed to lead the viewer out of the comfort zone and let him feel threatened by the unknown and unknown. Tumbbadbased on the taste of Indian myth and the shape of Indian history, it just takes them further than most horror movies. In this way, it leads to weirder, darker and more joyful places.

Tumbbad is live Amazon Prime Video.

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