Tumbbad (2018)

Tumbbad first published by SciFiNow

“It’s my only quality,” admits Vinayak (Sohum Shah) proudly when accused of greed. Vinayak is a man driven by insatiable lust and love for money – making him a fitting earthly avatar for Hastar, the favoured firstborn son of the Goddess of Prosperity, banished back to his mother’s womb by his 160 million divine siblings after stealing all her gold and trying to take her grain. As a boy growing up in the eternally rainy Western Indian village of Tumbbad, Vinayak had heard rumours that Hastar’s treasure was buried somewhere beneath the mansion of his wealthy illegitimate father Sarkar (Madhav Hari Joshi). Hoping eventually to earn a gold coin from Sarkar, Vinayak’s mother still ‘services’ the old man, and also looks after his great grandmother (Piyush Kaushik), a monstrous crone who mostly sleeps and is always hungry. After tragedy strikes, Vinayak promises, at his mother’s insistence, never to return to Tumbbad – but the sight of that gold coin draws him back as an adult, ensuring that the curse of Hastar continues.

As it traces Vinayak’s various encounters with the crypto-divinity Hastar, Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi and Adesh Prasad’s supernatural morality fable Tumbbad spans the thirty years leading to India’s Independence in 1947. Coming with a folkloric mythology invented, along with Hastar, from the ground up, the tripartite film carefully conceals its own mechanics, leading the viewer, like Vinayak, to dig deep in order to unearth its grotesquely surreal narrative treasures. For we we only gradually realise the horrific origin of Vinayak’s seemingly endless fortune, even as we witness him slowly transforming into the debauched patriarch Sarkar while his own young son Pandurang risks toeing the family line. 

A beautifully shot fairytale gothic, Tumbbad allegorises the corrupting rapacity of colonialism in Imperial India, and looks forward to an independent India who may – or may not – be able to free herself once and for all from the hidden complicities of history.    

Strap: The Hindi-language Tumbbad is a grotesque gothic allegory of corrupting colonialism and (maybe) liberation.

© Anton Bitel