Tumbbad 2018: An underrated cult classic of modern Indian cinema

Visual from Tunbbad(2018)
Tumbbad (2018)

Cinematic Aesthetics in Tumbbad 2018

The above still gives us an accurate idea of the aesthetics and overall tone of Tumbbad (2018). For those expecting jump scares and extreme violence akin to slasher movies or the sickness of “The Exorcist”, Tumbbad will be a big disappointment. The movie is so much more than just a horror movie, or just a period drama. The main crux of Tumbbad is embracing the unfamiliar with the familiar. In fact, it can be said that this movie is the first example of true Indian horror. From the very outset, it will be very obvious that a lot of love and passion went into making this movie.

Whether it be the incredible cinematography by Pankaj Kumar, the chilling soundtrack or the great performances by Dhundiraj Prabhakar, Sohum Shah, Mohammad Samad, etc., or the overall creativity of the movie, everything reeks passion in “Tumbbad”. Director Rahi Anil Barve and creative director Anand Gandhi have done a tremendous job bringing this aesthetic horror movie to life. At the heart of Tumbbad is Indian mythology, combined with Lovecraftian elements. On the other hand, it is also a journey into pre-independent India, an exploration of the greed and excess of human beings.

A tree grows from a cursed woman in Tumbbad (2018)
A tree grows from a cursed woman in Tumbbad (2018)

The above scene is not only one of the strangest scenes in the movie, but also one of the most impressive in cinematography. The camera work truly brings the strange into the light for us to view. The movie takes place between two locations- the rain-soaked village of Tumbbad and pre-independent Pune. Tumbbad is an ancient decrepit village lost to time in contrast to the opulence of Pune.

The atmosphere of this movie is truly commendable. In fact, if I were to give it any tags other than period horror, it would definitely be atmospheric horror. But it’s not only that. It is an exploration of society, culture, and childhood. The movie shows how we take what we learn in childhood to our adulthood. Vinayak Rao is the main character. He undergoes the same journey as his greed for gold from childhood to adulthood grows stronger and stronger. Every horrific consequence in the movie is brought about not only by eldritch deities but human corruption and miscalculation. Childhood and motherhood are important symbols in the movie. Even the abomination called Hastar is in the womb of his mother, the goddess.

Vinayak's mother in Tumbbad
Vinayak’s mother in Tumbbad
It's always raining in the village of Tumbbad
It’s always raining in the village of Tumbbad
Pune in contrast  (Tumbbad 2018)
Pune in contrast

Themes Explored in Tumbbad 2018

From the very beginning, we see a theme other than dark horror which is sexual excess. This theme follows the characters all the way from Tumbbad to Pune, with greed and pride as the carriage drivers. Vinayak Rao, the main character is greedy from his childhood and will brave even gods and demons for gold. As he pulls himself out of poverty, he also falls as a human being indulging in lust, greed, opulence and becoming a much more fallen character. The horror here is in the lengths man will go to for the satisfaction of his greed. It is not the story of just ancient abominations, it tells a very human story– a story of loss, death, lust, and greed.

Greed and excess in Tumbbad
Greed and excess in Tumbbad

Tumbbad borrows heavily from both Hindu mythological stories full of dev, devis, and spins a lovecraftesque tale from it. Indeed, it makes the legend much more believable and the truly grotesque scenes hit much closer to home. The entire movie plays out much like a folk tale, with terror, human error, and in the ending a much more important moral message. Did Tumbbad scare me? No, not much. But did it leave an impression on my mind? Definitely. Fans of shock and awe, jump scares may not like this more deliberate pace, but fans of the grotesque will surely enjoy its body and occult horror imagery.

The Devi in "Tumbbad"
The Devi in “Tumbbad”
The curse of greed in "Tumbbad"
The curse of greed in “Tumbbad”
Hastar the cursed in Tumbbad
Hastar the cursed in Tumbbad


The purpose of writing all of this is to encourage more and more people to watch this movie. Truly, this is a gem in Indian horror, a genre that has been known for its failings more than its successes. It may not be the hilarious B movie romp of the Ramsay brother’s movies, but that is precisely why it’s the first truly Indian horror movie and a cult classic for ages to come. It is a shining example of Indian horror which many future movies will struggle to follow. TIll now, many people have heard about it but not many have actually seen this.

Tumbbad is definitely an underrated classic in the history of Indian cinema. Yes, it is nowhere near an arthouse movie, but the overall tone, aesthetics, and message will leave an impression on the viewer for a long time to come. Instead of laughing at films like “Pari”, go watch Tumbbad, a film worth its weight in gold.

Further Reading: https://www.firstpost.com/tag/tumbbad

Boidurjya Ganguly

An arts student living on movies, music and games. 50% caffeine and 100% tired.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Manjarima

    An interesting perspective indeed.

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