When it comes to making a movie in the horror genre, the foremost struggle previous Bollywood movies have faced is finding a strong story-line. A group of friends visiting an old haunted bungalow and getting trapped seems cliché and it is a safe bet to say Bollywood won’t be touching that part again. For some reasons Bollywood has been trying to make its horror movies work with the same old story-line. 2018 gave us a bunch of good movies which saved the year for the film industry. One such movie was Tumbbad. Directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Anand Gandhi with Sohum Shah (who was also one of the producers for the film) in lead role, Tumbbad became a groundbreaking horror movie in recent times and one of the best films of 2018. With cinematography by Pankaj Kumar and background score by Jesper Kyd, the film checked all the boxes. It was well received by the audience as well as critics. A look over the awards it received tells us why it towers above other attempts of the horror genre. At Filmfare it received awards for all the key categories including best cinematography, best sound design and best production design.
For Tumbbad it had the privilege of a strong story-line. Man’s greed to have more than what he deserves and what consequences it leads to, served as the main theme of the movie. But Tumbbad relied not only on star cast or quirky dialogues but focused on the visuals. This seems fair since the makers wanted it to be graphic and something out of the regular world. Every genre has its own demands. For horror and fantasy genre it is to convince and engage the audience with its atmosphere and to keep the audience hooked as the story moves forward. The two main weapons for achieving this are the visuals and sound. Danish composer Jesper Kyd did a memorable work with the score, now it was the visuals which needed to be up to the mark. The production design was handled by Nitin Zihani Choudhary and Rakesh Yadav. As if the story is inspired by mythology and being a part of fantasy wasn’t enough, the filmmakers had an added responsibility of making it look historically correct since it takes place around the Independence era. So, the production designers had to make sure it not only serves as a visual treat but is also convincing enough so that it seems to be a part of history.
For the first part the location of Tumbbad itself feels like it has been abandoned by the rest of the world. It was shot around locations of Saswad and the villages of Satara district in Maharashtra. The dark clouds and forever rain gave it a sense of gloom and it felt like it was sucked out of life. When we are first given the glimpse of the house by the hill where the grandmother lives, it goes perfectly with the story-line. A single house on the hill with no other houses in close proximity and a big lock guarding the door makes it perfect for the first encounter to take place. The narrow passages and poor lights add to the tension which is established by the solidarity of the place. Fast forward and Vinayak Rao returns years later in the search of the hidden treasure. The challenge here was to show the passage of time and how it has changed the hill house and on top of that to show that a part of grandmother has still survived. This is done beautifully by the bunch of roots which had grown inside the house in addition to being covered with dust and cobwebs. A tree had grown out of grandmother’s body and the heart was shown to be still beating by the continuous pumping being done by the people on the set.
The ghats and the market place in Pune are another beautifully shown part of the movie. The portrayal of a market place can be really challenging since it would involve lot of detailing and since it is based at the times of the Independence it had the maximum risk of being historically incorrect. A deleted scene from the movie shows Vinayak Rao and his son Pandurang, played by Mohammad Samad visiting the market on the Independence Day. They walk up to an ice cream vendor and Pandurang delights over the ice cream as Vinayak Rao watches. It is unfortunate that this wasn’t in the final cut since it is one of most well done scenes. Seeing a vendor with pre-Independence cart with ice cream written over it in Hindi is a visual treat.
For the scenes of the mansion which was inherited by Vinayak Rao, Sardar Purandare Wada was used. This mansion plays a major role in adding to the eeriness since it has been partly reclaimed by the earth in the second act. It is shown to be covered in dust, moss and cobwebs. Real mosses were used for this part by the production designers. Rain again complimented the gloom and monotony in Tumbbad. It is hard to foresee at first but the final actions take place in the underground which takes us closer to the Goddess Earth and finally takes us to the womb where Hastar would be residing. The choice of this place feels great since the Wada seems to be big and mysterious enough to be holding secrets which are later shown in the movie. The interiors are again shot with low lighting which make it even scarier.
It is hard to design something and make it a part of story when something like it has never been done before. This was exactly the case with the womb scene. The womb is where the final actions of the movie take place and where we finally meet Hastar, the first and beloved son of Goddess Earth. So as an audience you expect a visual experience which you haven’t come across before. The set was made with the help of PU Foam and slime was used to make it look alive. Being delicate in its part, it has to be refreshed after every session of shooting. The choice of colour and texture of the womb is sharp enough to be accepted as a body part and at the same time is spooky enough. The same colour and texture is used for designing Hastar which blends him in perfectly. Also his appearance is carefully designed to go with how he is described earlier in the movie. He was able to have all the riches but failed to have the food. Later in the movie he is shown to have a gold crown and carries gold coins with him but falls for the food that Vinayak Rao provides him.
You know that the art in the movie is top notch when you clearly remember the props that were part of the movie. One such take away was the bus which Vinayak Rao takes to reach Tumbbad. Viewers are shown a rugged, old mini-bus drenched in rain. The design of the bus makes it look old, worn out, something which has been grinned for a long time. It looks like it has survived years and it is almost time that it runs out of breath. It fits perfectly with the monotony of the place but at the same time serves as an eye candy for the viewers. For film lovers this amount of detailing serves as one of the key points which finally adds up and makes it a complete visual experience. Something which lacks in a majority of Bollywood movies is that detailing is overlooked and the actors are burdened to make the story convincing. In the case of Tumbbad the need to make the film visually stunning was elegantly accepted by the team.