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Tumbbad



I watched this movie based on a recommendation from someone who's seen it at Fantastic fest in Alamo drafthouse. It is a morality tale on greed but it is disguised as fantasy horror.

The review for this movie could easily go in lot of different directions. So I would like to keep it focused. The movie is based on a made up folklore. To my surprise, despite being made up it is very rich. It is very hard to poke holes at the mythology. According to it, the goddess of wealth and food curses her oldest son,Hastar for being extremely greedy and trying to steal both gold and grain. As part of the curse he is erased from history books and is hidden in her womb. The curse prevents him from accessing any form of food but he gets to keep the gold since he stole it already. So it is as if he never existed. A long time later a family finds out about him and starts worshipping him. All the rest of the children of the goddess, who themselves are gods are angry that this forgotten son is being worshipped and starts raining on the village,Tumbbad ever since. So the family and the village to certain extent is facing the wrath of gods.

The movie is split into 3 parts based on different stages in the life of our protagonist. His name is Vinayk. I think his point of view is the best way into this story. Part 1, when Vinayk is a teenager we learn that his mother is a young widow and she is giving sexual favors to an old man for over a decade in exchange for financial support. But the old man, who happens to be the heir of a wealthy family has been careless with his spendings and used up all the family wealth. The only thing left is a gold coin that the woman is hoping to earn for her service. In a way she is grasping at straws by that point.It turns out that the old man is the descendent of the family that worshipped Hastar and brought down curse upon the village. This family has a dark secret that is eventually revealed over the course of the movie. What we do know is that the old man has spent his entire life trying to find treasure that is rumored to be buried under the family mansion. But it is nowhere to be found. Vinayk's mom is tasked with feeding the great grandmother of the old man who is suffering from some sort of mysterious condition but is miraculously alive for few centuries. The grandmother stays isolated in a locked room in an outhouse away from the mansion that is used by Vinayk's family. The old woman is considered dangerous and is chained to the wall. She is fed and occasionally when she wakes up the family is told to utter a phrase involving Hastar to put her back to sleep. After the death of Old man and before Vinayk's family could leave the town, Vinayk's younger brother is involved in an accident. When the mother takes the younger son to doctor, she leaves Vinayk alone in the house to feed the old woman and tells him to use the name Hastar if the Old woman tries to attack him. But unfortunately he forgets the name and gets into trouble with the Old woman. She is horribly disfigured and before she could eat him he recollects the name Hastar and uses it to put her to sleep. From this encounter we realize that the old woman is under some kind of curse and vinayk also learns that the old woman knows about the treasure in the mansion. The mother returns home with the news of her son's death and they leave the village next morning with vinayk being forced by his mother to take an oath to never return to the village. During this first part we notice that Vinayk is a very selfish person even at a young age and also very greedy. He doesn't even care for the safety of his brother before his death. The only reason he gets into trouble with the old woman is because she was able to lure him into her room using her knowledge of the treasure.

Part 2, the most important part of the movie. A 20 something Vinayk is seen returning to the village after 15 years and the first place he visits is his old house. By this point the house is consumed by flora. There are twigs and branches everywhere. In all this he is able to find his grandmother who is pinned to the ground by a tree growing out of her rendering her immobile and still alive. He gets information regarding the treasure in exchange for freeing her from the curse by burning her alive. The brilliancy of the script is that at this point in the movie we see him searching for the entrance to the treasure chest based on the information given by the grandmother and once he finds it the movie cuts back to his home in another village. What we do notice is that he returns with gold coins. This introduces us to the second most important relationship in the movie, the first being between the treasure and vinayk. This is between a money lender and vinayk. The reason why this relationship works so well is because its complicated and it revolves around wealth. One of the catalysts apart from greed that forces vinayak to go back to his house are his debts. So when he comes back with gold coins and clears the debt this gets the attention of money lender. As time passes by, in just a few weeks tables turns and the money lender owes money to vinayk for his gold coins. The character of the money lender is very greedy. We see him trying to fish for information regarding the source of the gold coins but he doesn't get anything from Vinayk. On occasions even Vinayk offers to give him financial assistance if needed. But the money lender is too greedy for his own good. He wants in on Vinayk's source. By this point in the movie we do realize that Vinayk is busy with his own life and he is extremely wealthy and indulging himself in all vices. He is not too bothered about Money lender pestering him for his income source. But the straw that broke the camel's back is when he realizes that the Money lender tries to trick him into not leaving the town for 2 days by sending a woman to his house to seduce him. He immediately connects the dots and concludes that the money lender went to the mansion for treasure. This poses a real threat to Vinayk. So he goes to the mansion as well. What follows next is a 5 - 10 minute sequence that is the highlight of the movie. Vinayk lures the money lender into a well by acting as if he didn't notice anyone in the mansion and he is just going on about his job. So , it is through the eyes of the money lender that we get the first glimpse into the treasure chest. The brilliance of the movie is that until this point we see that Vinayk has found the path to the treasure and he is able to get the treasure in small amounts each time but we don't know why or how. The money lender climbs down a giant sphere made out of flesh with walls covered in blood and it seems to be moving. By this point the money lender is completely consumed by greed that he forgets that the "treasure" if exists belongs to Vinayk since it's his ancestral house and he crosses so many lines of betrayal, self preservation and fear of the unknown to reach there. All he can see at the point is a small box on the floor. Even at that point he had a chance to just walk away. But his greed forces him to open the box and sees a doll made out of flour in there. Once the doll is taken out of the box something snatches him up into the walls and we hear him screaming for his life. A while later we see Vinayk descend into the sphere and shows us how it's done. The big reveal is that the sphere happens to be the womb of the goddess and since she hides hastar from millions of his angry sibling gods trying to kill him, he is hiding in the walls of the womb. Due to the curse he can't have food. But he can have it if someone offers it to him. Apparently flour on its own is not considered food. But flour mixed with water is considered food. So vinayak draws a circle with flour and stays in it because hastar can't enter the circle and the he lures Hastar with the doll from the box and once Hastar is busy eating the doll he steals the coins from the loin cloth of hastar and climbs out of the womb before he is done eating and closes the door to the womb. The way Hastar is depicted in the movie is very interesting. He is treated as a cursed god. So his actions are very primal and he is the ultimate embodiment of greed. The moment you show him the doll , you get his full attention and he will attack and kill you for it . The reason he tries to attack whoever is in the womb after he is done eating is because they stole his gold coins. Since the money lender accidentally offers the doll by opening the box, Hastar attacks him and eats the doll. Who ever is bitten by Hastar inherits his curse of living forever and being hungry all the time but they are disfigured in the process.In a way they are his slaves and they fear him . The only way they can be freed from the curse is by burning them. Once the door is closed , Hastar is gone. This bring us to the back story of the grandmother from part 1. Throughout the movie we see crumbs of what could have happened along the family lineage. My theory based upon what is presented throughout the movies is as follows. So, a long time ago one of the members of the family must have found the entrance to the womb. Something must have happened that resulted in the family figuring out that a touch from the god could curse anyone but at the same time you can steal from the god if he is distracted long enough. Generation after generation the family lineage must have been consumed by greed and stole the gold from the god. You can even see the lengths to which the families went to retrieve gold coins from the womb. The grandmother is a casualty of the hunger for gold. Here is what could have happened to her. Once her husband dies she is forced to be one of the one's who go into the womb to fetch the gold in exchange for sparing her from being banished from the village. That is what used to happen to women after their husband's death back in the day. We also see paintings of women fully covered in clothing with just their faces exposed grinding flour on the walls of the mansion. So the family lineage for generations must have not banished their widows and instead used them to get gold from the womb. How fricking disturbing is that. The cycle ended with the grandmother. It looks like when she is bitten, someone must have decided that they have had enough and closed the path to the womb and hid it by building a well along the path. So the stealing of gold must have stopped once the grand mother is bitten by Hastar. In addition to that they decided they couldn't kill her because of pity and so they left her alive by feeding her for generations. They also stopped passing on the information to future generations regarding the womb. So the secret died with the generation that spared the grandmother until the grandmother reveals the information to Vinayk. But one key thing to remember is that they are dealing with a god. It is not from this world. They are essentially stealing from a god by tempting him with food. Vinayk is just following a set of rules made by humans to deal with something supernatural.

Part 3, this part picks up a decade after vinayk has eliminated the money lender and now he has a son. Vinayk has indulged himself in all forms of vices and is recognizing that he is getting too old to continue going into the womb. Because the task is so physical. One of the things that makes Vinayk such a great anti-hero and protagonist of the movie is his obsession and courage. Every time he goes into the womb he is risking his life. A lot of things have to go right for him to survive each time. The rope can't break, he can't slip while climbing, he can't be too slow for Hastar to catch him and he can't afford to be unprepared when hastar notices the flour doll. All this takes practice and preparation. So in a way he earned that gold. When the time comes for him to pass on these duties to his son he expects his son to be prepared. But a life full of wealth and decadence has made him an abusive parent and uncaring husband. The curse from the god has manifested itself into a slight leg disability in their son. In a way the gods who attacked Hastar are cursing Vinayk for taking the gold by making his son slightly disabled. But nonetheless he doesn't get the cue and takes his son with him to the womb after he has had practice. But what we notice is that his son is greedier than him. We notice the son exhibiting very bad tendencies from a very early age. He put their whole mission at jeopardy when he brings the doll on a trial run. He steals coins from Hastar during his very first trial run when Vinayk is unprepared. So we immediately notice that the greed is growing with generations. But Vinayk just considers it an anomaly. The unlimited supply of wealth has made Vinayk out of touch with reality that he forgets India has got independence. Due to the new laws from Indian government the mansion will be demolished and a village will be built in that area. The son being his greedy self suggest that they take multiple dolls with them so that they can buy enough time to steal as much gold as they can. These two events act as catalysts for Vinayk to loose his sense of caution and give in to his greed by taking lot of dolls into the womb along with his son. But since he doesn't fully know what he is dealing with , for each doll they bring, a new Hastar appears. So they get overwhelmed by a lot of Hastars essentials making their escape impossible. So Vinayk must make a choice between saving his own life or saving his son's life. By that point he is forced to face his greed that has consumed him his whole adult life. He finally decides to sacrifice himself by using himself as bait and luring all the hastars outside the womb and kill them with flour. This clears up the route for his son to get out of the womb. Once his son reaches the surface he witnesses his father transform into his
cursed self and this finally makes his son give up on the gold leave the mansion once for all.

So the genius of the movie is that it is a fable taking place in real time. The lead in the movie is such an awesome character because he goes into this nightmare and comes out alive for such a long time until his greed gets the better of him. You see how long a layman survives in there using the example of money lender. He couldn't even climb down the rope properly and falls down. Imagine the first time Vinayk had to encounter Hastar , what a nightmare that must have been to climb out knowing that , that thing is after you. So he overcame all that all by himself and risked his life. At the same time he is incredibly misogynistic and treats his family as ****. All this makes for a very interesting descent into the darkness of human psyche. The movie is very atmospheric.