A funeral pyre throwing up flames against the backdrop of a dark, ominous sky and the voice of a young boy greet us. “Sarkar mar gaya,” he says. And then we see a small family of three, huddled together, making a dash for an unknown land, possibly an even stranger fate awaiting them. What we see next is a huge fortress-like ancient palace whose gates haven’t been touched in years and are now pried open, murky crannies and forgotten tunnels, hushed talks about a treasure being buried and the the raspy, unsettling voice of a spirit who is likely guarding the same.
The family believes they have rightfully inherited the treasure, know of the “sarkar” having failed to locate it and soon realize they might have to undergo a little more than some inconvenient hustling and grimy digging to place their hands on it. After all, the spirit makes it clear they are being greedy, and lets them have a hint of what they might have to contend against if they did not withdraw, “Viraasat mein mili hui har cheez par dawa nahin karna chahiye.”
The man (Sohum Shah) at the forefront of this treasure hunt is unabashed about his mission and lets her know, that if he did not claim it, somebody else would come along to do the same. “Laalchi hai tu,” says the spirit in a screechy, chilling voice. “Yehi toh ek gun hai mujhmein,” pat comes the reply, and from that point on, we are promised a saga of defiance, avarice and a hair-raising maelstrom that will not disappoint.
Set in Pune in the 1920s, Tumbbad is a period horror/mystery film that combines folklore, fantasy, the supernatural and religion and is based around the generational secrets of a brahmin family. There is greed, there is lust, and the baleful consequences of digging in places that are not one’s business. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this is a tale pitting men against men, or against a stubborn, punishing God that has no intention of granting what these men so deserve and deeply desire.
But should they desire this treasure at all, even if they have inherited it?
Rich, atmospheric and eerie in every frame, Tumbbad may be the answer to Bollywood’s quest for a genre-defying horror movie which has largely seen duds in this space over the last few years. Starring Sohum Shah in a lead role, the film has been backed by Shah, Aanand Rai, Mukesh and Amita Shah and will be releasing in Indian theaters on October 12.
The film which opened opened to rave reviews at the acclaimed Venice International Film Festival Critic’s week in July is releasing in four languages – Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu.
I am spooked already, and enough to watch it First Day, First Show.