Rahi Barve (India, 1979) debuted with the short
It took nine years to complete his next film, and first full-length.
Tumbbad (2018) is a horror movie with spectacular cinematography
and it is also an allegory about greed. The young son thinks he is smarter
than his old father because he has found a more efficient way to do the same
job but instead he destabilizes his father's old-fashioned system that had worked just fine and introduces a risk that doesn't pay off.
Ironically the son then concludes that nothing is better than what his father had, when in fact the son could have simply continued the father's work.
There is also a meditation on how knowledge and traditions are passed down from generation to generation and how moral values, knowledge and life lessons are acquired.
There may also be a disguised allegory about production on an industrial scale: the artisan was risking his life but didn't destroy his livelihood whereas the
industrial-scale modernization of his work destroys both him and his livelihood.
A father (Vinayak) tells his child the legend of Hastar, a greedy god, the favorite son of the Goddess of Prosperity, who wanted all her gold and food for himself but was attacked by the other sons/gods of the goddess, saved by the goddess but upon the condition that he would never be worshipped again. And so he was erased from the sacred scriptures.
The ancestors of the man, the villagers of Tumbbad, built a temple to Hastar,
but the other gods punish the villagers by cursing them with an endless rain.
The father explains that Hastar has been a boon for them.
A flashback brings us back to when the father was a child, 30 years earlier.
A woman walks in the rain into an old man's room and masturbates him, demanding that he
pays the gold coin that he promised. She is worried because she is late to feed
the man's grandmother. Apparently the old woman must be fed before she wakes up.
In the back of the room we see a statue to Hastar with a gold coin locked behind bars.
Two children (Vinayak and his younger brother Sadashiv)
knock at a gate while it's raining. Nobody opens. They open it
and one of them, realizing that his mother is late, decides to feed the
old woman. He cooks the meal and then gives it to the other child to deliver it.
However just then the woman arrives and stops the little child. She delivers
the food personally to the snoring old woman. She then clips her nails and we
see that the old woman is some kind of reptilian monster and her arms are chained to the walls.
The child Vinayak asks his mother why his father hasn't given her the gold coinyet, after 12 years of being his mistress, so we learn that the old man, Sarkar,
is the father of the two children, and the monster is the children's great-grandmother.
The monster eats her meal and falls asleep again. Vinayak's mother is scared of her.
That night Sarkar dies.
Vinayak's mother tells Vinayak that Sarkar searched all his life for a treasure
that is supposed to be buried in the mansion but never found it.
The mansion is falling apart and is worthless.
Sarkar squandered his ancestors' fortune and died poor.
Vinayak's mother decides to leave the mansion, abandon Sarkar's grandmother,
and move to the nearby city, but Sadashiv falls from a tree. She loads the
injured Sadashiv on a cart and leaves to find a doctor, but Sadashiv dies
along the way.
Vinayak, alone at home, is lured by Sarkar's grandmother with the word "treasure" to feed her.
Vinayak frantically cooks a meal and delivers it to her, but she attacks him
to eat him. He invokes the name of Hastar and she falls asleep (the routine followed by her mother to placate the old woman), thus saving his own life.
The mother returns to the mansion in tears. They cremate the body of
Sadashiv in a lake and then take a boat across the lake to leave Tumbbad for good.
Vinayak protests that they should torture the old woman until she reveals
the location of the treasure, but his mother has already taken the gold coin
and only wants to get out of there.
As Vinayak insists, she become afraid that he is as greedy as his father Sarkar
was and asks him to swear that he will never return to the mansion.
As he refuses, she tells him that she wishes he had died instead of Sadashiv.
Then finally Vinayak does as she demands and swears to never return.
Fifteen years later Vinayak, now a moustached adult, returns.
to Tumbbad. He has to bushwack through thick vegetation to reach the mansion.
He finds his great-grandmother still alive, although buried in dirt and foliage.
She tells him that she was turned into a monster when she found the treasure
and warns him that the same will happen to him.
She found the treasure in the well where Hastar dwells.
She demands that he burns her to stop her endless hunger and suffering in return for revealing the location of the well. He accepts.
She calls him a "greedy bastard", which sounds like a curse, but he replies
proudly that it's his only virtue.
When he returns to the city, looking like a delirious tramp, he announces to
his wife that he will make her rich. She has started a business of grinding
grain after he left her without a word. Vinayak settles his debts with a gold
coin and then sells three more to his old master Raghav.
He brings more coins to Raghav and
Raghav wonders why Vinayak cannot just dig up all the coins at once.
We see that he drives to Tumbbad and climbs down and up the well.
Raghav has a problem: he obtained an opium permit from a
currupt British superintendent but this Brit now demands a bribe that Raghav
Raghav has become like family for Vinayak and his wife.
He has guessed that Vinayak must have found the mythical treasure.
This all happens against the backdrop of Gandhi's disobedience campaign against the British colonists.
Raghav gets a phonograph and a motorcycle for Vinayak, two new items in that part of the world, which Vinayak can now afford.
The Brit gives Raghav only two days to pay. Raghav sells his beautiful widowed
daughter-in-law to Vinayak (the girl was meant to be burned when her husband died and he had to pay to rescue her). His wife is anxious about this new woman
and she is right: Vinayak takes her in as a maid but in reality as a mistress.
The girl tells Vinayak that Raghav instructed her to have sex with him for
two days nonstop to make sure that he doesn't leave the house, and Vinayak
understands that Raghav is going to look for the treasure in Tumbbad.
That's precisely what Raghav is doing. He opens the gate and looks around.
Vinayak arrives and makes noise so that Raghav will see him and follow him.
Raghav sees Vinayak by the well, waits for Vinayak to walk away and then
descends himself. At the bottom he is attacked by a mysterious force and
slowly devoured by a red quicksand. Vinayak descends too but cannot help Raghav
because a monkey-like demon jumps in front of him.
The demonic monkey eats a doll made of dough that Vinayak left in a bucket
and Vinayak quickly steals a few gold coins from the cloth that covers his buttocks. The catch is to leave before Hastar finishes his meal.
Before leaving, Vinayak sets fire on Raghav to end his suffering.
Back home he finds his wife bickering with the young girl. His wife kicks
Fourteen years later (1947, when India is about to become independent),
Vinayak is getting old and weak. He now owns a car and still has a young
He has built a well in his courtyard so that
his son Pandurang can train to climb down and pick coins, so that his son
can take over.
His son is proud of what he has learned but Vinayak is instead disappointed.
One day he decides to take
Pandurang with him to Tumbbad. Not even his wife knows what happens in Tumbbad.
During the trip by car they have the conversation that we heard at
the very beginning.
When they arrive, Vinayak shows the son how to make the dough dolls.
Then they climb down into the well. The son sees that Raghav has become part of the red sludgy wall of the cave.
Vinayak meant this as merely a demonstration of how the system works but
Pandurang has carried the dough doll with him. Hastar smells it and attacks.
He first devours the doll and then turns towards them. The son has only time
to steal a few coins from Hastar before escaping.
India becomes independent. Officials inform Vinayak that the decrepit mansion
of Tumbbad has been confiscated and will be turned into a brand new village.
While this is happening, Vinayak finds out that Pandurang, who is still a child, has fallen in love with his mistress and gifted her a gold coin.
Vinayak, furious, beats up the child and curses him.
Pandurang retaliates by accusing him of being an idiot: he spent years stealing a few coins each time from Hastar instead of simply stealing the whole treasure. All they have to do is prepare many dough dolls instead of just one so that Hastar will take a long time to finish his meal. This will give them enough time to steal all the coins.
Vinayak realizes that his son has a point. First they go to dance with girls
and the song informs us that Hastar has been starving for millennia and so
he's always hungry.
Vinayak and Pandurang order a lot of flour while Vinayak's wife watches anxious, not knowing the reason.
They take the flour to Tumbbad and make a lot of dolls and bring them down
in the cave.
However, many Hastars appear, one per each doll.
And they are all hungry. They even fight each other like dogs.
Vinayak and Pandurang are surrounded.
Vinayak comes up with a ploy to distract the demons: he ties all the remaining
dolls to his body so that they will attack him and leave Pandurang alone.
The ploy works and Pandurang can escape.
Vinayak resurfaces as a horrible monster trying to hand the entire bag of coins
Pandurang, in tears, refuses to take it and instead sets his father on fire
to end his suffering. Then he locks the well for good.