Tumbbad: Reinventing the Horror Genre

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A scene from the movie Tumbbad where the picture describes the man and the boy approaching the goddess idol

The article is a personal review of the Indian horror film Tumbbad. The author shares his thoughts on the film’s unique concept, Indian cultural references, expertly crafted visuals and music, and the absence of typical horror tropes. He also discusses how Tumbbad’s theme of greed and unexpected climax provided a satisfying viewing experience that reignited his love for the horror genre.

By Anubhav Das

The vast majority of horror movies currently in theatres, in my opinion, are an insult to the horror genre. Such a strong attitude is not the result of a dislike for the genre but rather a genuine dissatisfaction with the repetition of the same old motifs in every other major horror movie. It would be acceptable to state that the horror genre recently has not lived up to its potential as someone who enjoys Sam Raimi, William Fredkin, James Wan, and whose introduction to the world of horror fiction novels began with Stephen King.

Since many of the genre’s tropes have been overused, some would argue that the genre needs to reinvent itself.  In my opinion, the best horror movies never only leave you with a few spooky images stuck in your head, but always leave you with a lasting sense of the unknown. You experience this emotion as a loop in which you are unable to stop thinking. You watch the movie again and over again for the same exact reason.

For me, this emotion vanished in recent years. My expectations for the horror genre were almost dashed, but perhaps I was being too picky. I was at peace with the idea that excellent horror movies were extinct and that the genre as a whole was in desperate need of rejuvenation. But then I found Tumbbad.

One day while we were under lockdown, one of my friends gave me a Netflix recommendation. He suggested I view the movie TUMBBAD. At first, I had my doubts. How can a film with a budget of less than 5 crores persuade me when virtually every other horror movie with a high budget has failed to do so? As even Hollywood has struggled to produce quality horror movies over the past few years, how can a Bollywood  movie titled Tumbbad potentially revitalise a genre that is on the decline?

I had convinced myself that the movie would be at best good, and I was not going to be persuaded otherwise. I pressed the play button with these doubts in mind. The world in which the Goddess of Prosperity, who gave birth to 16 crore gods and goddesses, was immediately introduced to me. She had vast (perhaps infinite) stores of gold and food because the Earth was her womb. This womb gave birth to her firstborn, Hastar, who was also her favourite and most repulsive child. Although Hastar was a celestial divinity by birth, the other gods were compelled to step in because of his dishonest intentions. Such a concept was unique and unheard of in a horror movie.

To overcome my scepticism, though, wasn’t simple. A person with strong feelings about horror movies wasn’t persuaded by a compelling plot on its own. Yet, I was drawn into the story of Tumbbad. The movie’s story felt anchored in Indian culture and was told as a compilation of stories by your grandma. Also, because of the film’s eerie tone, it was nearly impossible for viewers to guess what would happen next as the story developed.

Beyond the story, the expertly crafted images and the great music moved me in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. It was amazing how the movie managed to generate such a mood on such a small budget. Wide images of the desolate landscapes provided an eerie sense that, when mixed with the sound design, made for a lethal combination. The main musical theme of the film was not overdone which made it stand out. The musical theme blended beautifully with the plot which made the viewing experience even better. The purpose of music in a film is to aid the story but unfortunately in most films these days, the music sticks out like a sore thumb and never truly blends with the film. In Tumbbad however, the music is able to achieve a much-needed blend with the plot because of its meticulous craftsmanship.

A scene from the movie Tumbbad showing a horrific figure

Apart from the great music, one of the nicest aspects of the movie, in my opinion, was the absence of an abandoned house with a female spirit trying to exact revenge on the new occupants while wearing a white kurti. This gave the movie a feeling of being new and inventive and undoubtedly reinvented the horror sub-genre. The subject of the movie, which serves as a steppingstone for both the plot and all other aspects of the movie, is what every movie ultimately rests on. The major issue of the movie, greed, and other related themes were masterfully handled.

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Additionally, the main message was not immediately obvious, which kept the audience interested throughout. Utilizing this subject, the movie masterfully built up near the conclusion, leading to an unexpectedly satisfying climax. The film’s climax was unexpected; in fact, it wasn’t what the audience would have anticipated when the movie started. Despite this, the film’s climax gives it a sense of closure.

After then, the movie’s credits rolled, and I couldn’t help but be persuaded. The obstinate man had at last seen a film that perfectly captured his love of the genre. He had at last felt the lingering unease he had missed for all these years, and it was brought on by a straightforward film with a budget of less than 5 crores.

He was indeed so persuaded by the movie that he decided to write this piece on it to share his thoughts with everyone. If you agree with him or disagree with him, he will want to know because it makes for a fantastic adda either way.


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