Venezia 2018 – First Look Review: Tumbbad

Kicking off this year’s Venice International Film Critics’ Week is Indian fantasy-horror Tumbbad.

From the go, it quickly becomes apparent that Tumbbad is on course to serve as a parable for the corrupting nature of greed.  Narration tells us, as we sweep over the bleak, rain-sodden countryside of Tumbadd in the far reaches of western India, the legend of Hastar, a God undone by his own his avarice.

Rahi Anil Barve and co-director Adesh Prasad have crafted a film with the ambitions of an epic.  Spanning thirty odd years we follow Vinayak (Sohum Shah), the bastard son of a wealthy lord cast off to live with his mother and brother in abject poverty.  

Housed with them is their grandmother, a cursed witch, who holds the secret to a hidden treasure that promises eternal wealth.  The idea seduces the young Vinayak and fifteen years after the death of his younger brother forced him and his mother to leave Tumbbad, he returns home and uncovers it.  

As the film progresses and Vinayak, now married, accumulates his wealth, we learn that the source of the gold coins he sells for currency are pilfered from a replenishing purse strapped to Hastar, the fallen God, who lives buried beneath the mansion of his long deceased father.     

Tumbbad throws to Guillermo del Toro’s brand of filmmaking, launching into the world of magical realism.  And, the directing duo make a fair go of it.  Whilst the film lacks the same level of imaginative energy and visual fluency, Barve and Prasad manage to satisfyingly marry together the worlds of the real and the unreal.

The second act hangs a little fat, with a subplot involving Vinayak’s business partner bringing little to the overall narrative.   There is a half-hearted attempt at grounding the film within a historical context with brief references to India’s colonial status.  These seem to want to offer up answers as to the origins of Vinayak’s greed, and suggest, fleetingly, that perhaps it stem from the 200 years India was plundered under British colonial rule.     

Although the morality of the film is telegraphed and with the introduction of Vinayak’s son, who too is trained to steal the gold coins, the climax a foregone conclusion, Tumbbad holds its own.  It may not leave much of a lasting impression, but it is sure to charm regular cinemagoers and genre fans alike.

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