Tumbbad got me from the trailer itself. The sound of lightning, the visuals of lashing rain from the dark clouds hovering over the mountains, the India of 1918, the mansion, they were more than enough to snatch my attention. As the trailer raged ahead with its fiercest composure of visuals I had made up with my mind, “I’ll watch this in the theater”.
When we talk about cinema, it is an art which has three basic pillars Story, Screenplay and Characters. Once they are developed finely the rest sets on its own. For Tumbbad along with the above three mentioned pillars – pristine scenic beauty, decision to shoot natural, patience, room for trial and error has worked immensely. Let’s explore the several factors which contributed to the success of Tumbbad.
The seed of this mythological story was laid in 1993, when writer/director Rahi Anil Barve heard the story during his trip to Nagzira forest. The structure was based on a Marathi story named, “Aaji” written by Narayan Dharap. It seems like Rahi got obsessed with the story and penned down 700 pages of story board with its first draft in 1997. This laid the crucial first imaginary foundation of the story.
The Base of story – Greed & Exploitation
Tumbbad has primarily captivated on the human emotion of greed and exploitation, a never-ending saga for more wealth and luxury. For greed, the humans have even defied the will of the gods and consequently faced its wrath. Here, the wrath is in a form of endless rain over Tumbbad. But, for how long can you be lucky before you meet your fate? you can’t win all the time, right?
Vinayak’s greed is taking him into deeper waters where he has to survive each time if not then face an inevitable curse eternally. When you’re aware of the consequences yet you play the game, then it is no longer you but the greed in you that is playing the part. The greed in Vinayak’s life is beautifully portrayed in three phases- when he is young, middle-aged, and then old.
Everything worked well for Vinayak in his prime age. He earned his lifetime and also spent it in no time. But, after he was old he no longer had the strength to survive out of it. Will the greed end now? No. So now comes in the picture his son, Pandurang. Pandurang, from his young age had been exposed to the gold, so his attraction towards it was natural and it only made things worse later.
The mansion from where Vinayak extracted the gold coins was soon going to be owned by the government. Vinayak knew this was his last chance to snatch the gold. He could not do it alone and had to bring in his son even though he was not completely ready. The father-son duo gets in the act together and has to pay a hefty price over their greedy decision they made over their last extraction.
The story shades light on exploitation of someone’s weakness and making it into your own strength. When we know the weakness of a person we exploit till we win or our goal behind it is satisfied. The weakness of Hastar was food. Vinayak’s grandmother, Vinayak and later his son, Pandurang, exploited this weakness of Hastar and fed it to their over-growing greed.
Another reason for critical success of Tumbbad was their deep and detailed character development. The writer has to make audience to like his character, get emotionally attached with it, feel for it, root for it, explore with it. For this, the character has to be like any other ordinary person who has his flaws, who has his own strengths and weakness, his own psyche. Only then the audience connects with him and gets interested to know about his world. Let’s take a deep scan on the characters of Tumbbad and understand their psyche.
1. Vinayak – A perfect blend of Selfish and Sacrifice
Vinayak is the epicenter of the plot around which the story revolves. He is greedy just like his father, Sarkaar, who was inherently behind the gold for his entire life. Vinayak’s greed brought him back to Tumbbad to unravel the treasure in the mansion. When Vinayak proudly says,”Ek hi toh gunn hai mujhme”, he flaunts his greed like a quality he is proud of.
Vinayak’s selfishness is conveyed in three parts. In the early minutes of the film, little-Vinayak has to feed his grandmother, so he prepares the food but he sends his younger brother to feed her, despite knowing it’s full of risk and terrible consequences. How selfish of you Vinayak. Big brothers are meant to protect their younger ones just like Sunny Deol in Dillagi. But no, Vinayak only cares about himself.
Two incidents which give more exposure to Vinayak’s character are when he has to stay alone in the Wada after his brother sustains head injuries and has to be taken to nearby medicine practitioner. Vinayak uses this opportunity to question the grandmother about the hidden treasure. This attempt had almost ended Vinayak into quenching her hunger but his slogan which he tries to recall correctly over numerous attempts saves his life. But, what do we understand from this plot? he is dead crazy for the gold.
The second incident is when his mother decides to leave Tumbbad forever after the demise of her younger child. The plot becomes interesting here. The mother wants to relocate, she is carrying the unbearable weight of the death of her son but Vinayak wants to stay in Tumbbad and learn the secret of the treasure. This wordy fight is taking place amidst troubled water on a boat under heavy rain, what a well thought scene to describe the character of Vinayak. His younger brother was dead, but was Vinayak concerned? He kept contradicting with his mother and pressurized her to turn back and torture his grandmother until she spills out the secret. Vinayak also acts to drop the gold coin in the river to manipulate her to stay but he was wrong, she was not greedy like him.
As Vinayak aged he also turned ruthless. His marriage bond had shattered. Vinayak had grown filthy rich and since the women in that era were less prone to become independent his wife had to stick with him, while he also kept a mistress at his place. The husband and wife barely spoke. Vinayak never seemed to care what his wife thought or felt. Vinayak wanted to live his life on his terms, he partied, went to brothel house, gave away cash, that is what made the character more interesting. Vinayak was also a conserved father. He only spoke to his son as and when required which changed later as he found traces of himself in his son. Ruthlessness gave Vinayak an edge over dominating his family.
We love sensitive characters, don’t we? We like to see such selfish characters giving a hand to others. We get that essential reasoning to like Vinayak with all his bad. This is what the writers exactly achieved by adding sensitivity to Vinayak’s character. Why would we stick for 90 minutes to a screen if we don’t relate to the character. Vinayak’s character was sensitive on two occasions. Once when Raghav made a surprise visit to his house and tried to get the secret of the gold coins out of Vinayak’s wife and later Vinayak himself, but failed. Towards the end of the scene, Raghav pitched for a partnership of what he thought is gold smuggling. Vinayak out-front rejected his proposal but also inquired whether Raghav is under any duress. Vinayak also offered to help Raghav with an interest-free loan. The second incident was in the chamber of the mansion in Tumbbad, when Vinayak after snatching gold coins from Hastar decides to end the suffering of Raghav and give him solace. Although Raghav had crossed a line in their friendship yet Vinayak freed him from the eternal curse. We witnessed a sensitive side of Vinayak and we liked it.
Now, this is the climax when the greed of the father-son duo overturns on themselves and one of them has to sacrifice their life for one to live. Sacrifice is that golden ingredient for any writer to hit where it hurts the most. The heart. Only when it hurts the right spot it begins to bleed in the form of tears and the character becomes immortal. Vinayak like any other father sacrificed his life for his son. He tied all the remaining dough dolls to his body and jumped outside their protection circle. Vinayak did not die but his suffering from the curse were going to be endless after getting badly bitten by those many Hastars. It was his time to answer for his greed by suffering from the curse he endowed upon himself. Vinayak made a mark in our heart. Well, such is the power of sacrifice.
I have especially loved the character of Raghav which was so brilliantly portrayed by Deepak Damle. It had many layers to his origin. Raghav’s character helped in taking the story forward and even helped revealing the evil side of Vinayak.
Brahmin and Punekar
Introduction to Raghav’s character was quite intriguing. He is religious and has a notice plate on his house door citing the rules before using the doorbell, which is quite very common in Pune even today. His getup was far like a Hindu-Brahmin with portraits of Hindu gods latched on his house walls. His cat even had a tilak on her forehead – this is quite a detail to be honest.
Rich and sharp
Raghav had loaned money to Vinayak and even calculated what he called “Chakravarti byaaj”. Since he was loaning money we can comfortably assume he was doing well financially. He was on the verge of getting an opium license from the British, what could have been a very profitable business. Hence, Raghav was fairly rich and was sharp enough when it came to investing.
Liar and Deceptive
Raghav was two-faced. He always sugar-coated Cooper, the British officer, while he in fact wanted to avoid his every sight. What made me laugh every time was when Raghav called the British officer, “Cooper Bhau”. Raghav could easily lie on your face and present supporting facts which he did when he cleared Vinayak’s loan by selling his daughter-in-law to a hefty price to Vinayak. In this way, Raghav ended his huge debt without actually paying a penny, smart isn’t it? But that is not it, she was not just sold to clear the debt but for another grave intention, to keep Vinayak engrossed in her while he wandered to find the treasure in Tumbbad. Here, we got to see a deceptive Raghav who went behind the back of his friend to seize the treasure. We may call this act a betrayal of trust or treachery which makes the plot more agonizing. The writers tactfully maintained the suspense of treasure from the well and it is only in this plot when the secret of the gold coins is revealed.
3. Pandurang – Son of Vinayak
Pandurang had inherited the demons of greed from his father Vinayak. We are given a glimpse of Pandurang’s greed in a scene when Vinayak takes him to Tumbbad for his initial training before entering the chamber. Vinayak teaches him to make the dough doll but does not carry one inside the chamber, however Pandurang secretly carries the dough doll with himself which leads to a very close encounter with Hastar. Vinayak calls out Pandurang’s stupidity and beats him badly. What does this plot establish? Pandurang is as greedy as his father.
Pandurang begins training at an early age on the apparatus made by his father. He had every intention to join his father’s expedition to earn more gold, in a way he was also looking to prove worthy to his father, finding ways to have some interaction with Vinayak who is now getting aged and has slowed down in the fast pace of life. Vinayak and Pandurang both connect later after they find themselves similar, greedy.
Pandurang went one step ahead of his father and one can also say, behind his back. On an extra-ordinary night when Pandurang earned his first gold coin, he pledged one to Vinayak’s mistress. How daring it could be. I was really astonished by a totally unpredictable scene. It reflects his maturity in understanding what was dear to the mistress and he exactly exploited upon it. He even went to the extent of stating a future without his father and therein he would love her. I have extremely loved this character development.
Realization – The most vital part of any content driven cinema
This is the best part of Pandurang’s character. The climax is based upon the one-shot idea Pandurang gave to his father. Instead of quenching their thirst from mere drops they wanted to engulf the entire ocean, which was impossible. They prepared for their idea but were stabbed by the reality. Pandurang’s greed had cost the life of his father. While he was safe and sound, Vinayak was in similar suffering state as his grandmother badly beaten by Hastars that originated out of their own greed. After witnessing the outcome on his father which rooted from his own idea there was a much-needed realization. The realization of limiting self. The realization to put on end on his greed and saving himself. Pandurang rejected the loincloth of gold coins which his curse-ridden father stretched towards him. This is the best moment of any content-driven cinema. The Realization. The Change of heart. The Character has learned/changed on his own.
All in all, Tumbbad has a blend of strong story structure, a beautiful visual spectacle and a deep engrossing music. The never seen before visuals and an engaging mythological story line of Tumbbad has successfully left a dent in the minds of cinema lovers. The cinematography and editing was bang on. The enormous struggle for six years has certainly been rewarded.
However, despite being very high on content in all departments, Tumbbad earned quite low at the box office. In the last days of the film, it garnered all its audience by word of mouth. I am glad an original story like Tumbbad was rejected by 7 production houses or it would have never been made the way it is today. As Bollywood’s top-notch producers relied on reference style movies, Tumbbad with its critical success has given a new ray of hope to independent film makers and set a new benchmark.
Sohum shah as producer came as a blessing. He trusted on the creativity of his writers and directors. He obliged on whatever they asked for be it shooting for 4 monsoons, natural clouds, natural lights, trial and error in prosthetic of grandmother, constant rewriting of screenplay and dialogue over the years. All this while he had to manage between financing and maintaining his physical and mental equilibrium of Vinayak all along. We salute to the temperament of Sohum Shah.
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