‘Tumbbad (2018)’: A Study In Horror

Poster for the movie Tumbbad 2018
Poster for the movie Tumbbad 2018

Directed by Rahi Anil Barve, Tumbbad 2018 is a treat bag full of horror and intense storytelling. Tumbbad is a Bollywood film that has redefined the motif of most bollywood horrors. Rahi Anil Barve has taken nine crucial years to deliver this classic horror film to the Indian audience. Tumbbad is a horror film that respects all thrilling principles. In this write up we discuss how Tumbbad ticks all the right boxes to stand as a true horror film. This tribute to folklore horror has set a benchmark in Bollywood that is a tough act to follow in the years to come…

A still from the movie Tumbbad 2018
A still from the movie Tumbbad 2018


Tumbbad 2018 speaks of a story set in the era of 1920s, India Maharashtra. The film follows the story of three generations of family that have succumbed to the greed for the belied treasure of a cursed God.

The film unfolds in a little village of Tumbbad; that is situated near the Jagbudi river on the western ghats of India. The setting of Tumbbad is completely rural. A grandmother narrates the folklore of Hastar to her grandson. She reveals that Hastar is a blasphemous God that is exhumed and worshipped alone by their family. This worship of the lesser God has granted them wealth but her son has deliberately squandered this gift. The young boy spends his childhood in poverty with his mother and only returns back to the village once a grown man. The grandson Vinayak (Sohum Shah), obsessed to find the treasure questions the demonized immortal grandmother of its whereabouts. The old hag reveals the secrets to the grandson and he dives into the ruins of the castle to face the very iconic demon god, Hastar What follows is a tale of greed, gods and debauchery.

Pandurang walks through the castle of Tumbbad.
Pandurang (Vinayak’s son) walks through the castle of Tumbbad.

A Gothic Fiction on Film

Tumbbad 2018 bears the most similarity to the early European gothic novels. Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar dials into the right tones to get perfect frames to build the setting. The very first scenes of the movie are very definitive. It immediately draws the audiences into the gloomy outtake of the village of Tumbbad. The continuous rain and the inclement weather help in channelizing the gothic atmosphere of the movie.

The exchange of dialogue is slow in the film and only paces at brief moments. The characters often talk among themselves in hushed tones. This act depicts the revelation of an ominous secret.

The film has iconic similarity to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto published in 1864. The character of Manfred bears stark similarity to Vinayak (Sohum Shah) and is fed by greed and omens. The mysterious death of his son Conrad pushes Manfred onto his malicious path ; the death happens right on the day of Conrad’s wedding. In Tumbbad 2018 the story takes a turn for Vinayak after the death of his brother under unnatural circumstances, much like a curse.

Vinayak (Sohum Shah) is cursed into a demon.
Vinayak (Sohum Shah) is cursed into a demon.


One can viscerally experience the supernatural through the use of dark-tinted cinematography and ceaseless rain in the village of Tumbbad. The endless rain is symbolic of nature taking over man’s domain. The weather, slow narrative with sudden changes in the temperament of the characters keep the viewers at the edge of their seat. A colonial tension is also looming in the background describing the time as a pre-independent era of India.

Unceasing rainfall in Tumbbad
Unceasing rainfall in Tumbbad

Tumbbad 2018 uses the Nature of man to strike another chord of terror.. Vinayak in the knowledge of the treasure cannot put a reign to his greed; he is continually pulled back to the castle in hunger for more gold. He trains his son to the tactic of leeching gold from Hastar and eventually brings him to the castle. His blind greed passes itself on to his son; in his hubris, the same cursed God consumes him and turns him into a demon.

The Greek tragedy of Oedipus Rex has also been invoked to show the dire fall of the human condition. On earning a piece of gold coin, Vinayak’s son takes to his father’s mistress and even tries to lure her to himself.

Vinayak faces Hastar in the womb of the Goddess of Plenty.
Vinayak faces Hastar in the womb of the Goddess of Plenty.

Tradition Tied To Biblical and ‘Lovecraft-ian’ Elements

The very eerie element of the movie is Hastar has no mention in Hindu mythology. This absence of Hastar from mythology adds to the mystery of who he really is. The narrative describes Hastar as a cursed demon/God and the first son of Goddess of Plenty.

The name Hastar is a direct reference to Hastur,the Unspeakable; a deity from the myth of Cthulu by HP Lovecraft. Hastar is described very briefly in his novels as the King in Yellow and a half-brother to the cosmic Cthulhu.

The Worship Of Mammon - Evelyn De Morgan (1909)
The Worship Of Mammon – Evelyn De Morgan (1909)

No man can serve two masters for either he

will hate the one, and love the other, or else

he will hold to the one, and despise the other

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon

– Matthew 6:24

In the Bible, Mammon signifies wealth. Interestingly Mammon is the embodiment of Hastar, who is also the demon God of greed. In pre-Judeo culture, Mammon is depicted as an entity that clutches onto a pouch filled with gold. Therefore, a drawing of Greek legacy into the eastern tradition makes Hastar a more terrifying demon.

Greed is the hanging demon in Tumbbad 2018. Greed places itself carefully throughout all the characters of the film. Through this element, the film reaches out to the audience and steps its foot into the real world. The careful weaving of all these human vices grants the film a definitive podium of psychological horror. It is the stuff of bedtime stories and easily incites fear into the hearts of children and adults alike.

Susmit Basu

From a young age Susmit has held a passion for storytelling, movies and literature. He believes cinema is the beginning of thought and a perfect tool for sociocultural change. Here at Cinema Monogatari he analyses and dissects all that passes under his panoramic vision.

Leave a Reply