Fantastic Fest Interview: Tumbbad Brings Horror to India
Co-director Adesh Prasad on making a first for the nation
By Richard Whittaker,
2:33PM, Mon. Sep. 24, 2018
India is a massive movie nation, in every sense of the word. But like many countries, it oddly doesn't have a mainstream horror tradition. That's changed with Tumbbad, a multigenerational creepfest that breaks the ghoulish barrier.
It's not the first time that Fantastic Fest has shown such a groundbreaker: There was Zinzana, the first genre film from the United Arab Emirates in 2015; Israel's first horror film, Rabies, in 2011; and Chantaly in 2012, which was not only Laos' first horror film, but also the first Lao movie directed by a woman, the glass-ceiling-busting Mattie Do.
Every filmmaker of one of those firsts had a similar experience: That the film industry is often very conservative, and doesn't like to try new things. According to co-director Adesh Prasad, Tumbbad only happened because of producer and star Sohum Shah, who saw the film through a complex six-year process. In it, Shah plays Vinayak, the son of the mistress of the owner of a ramshackle mansion just outside of the city of Pune. The evil secret that lurks in the catacombs has kept the family wealthy but cursed; and when Vinayak becomes the man of the house, it threatens to swallow him and his son as well.
Austin Chronicle: India has a huge film industry, but is there much of a market for horror?
Adesh Prasad: When we started making this movie six years ago, there were no procedures. There was a B-movie horror culture in the Eighties, like there was everywhere, but that died down. There have been one or two horror films, but they've never been considered as a respectable form of entertainment – which I think was the same in Hollywood before James Wan made great movies like The Conjuring and Insidious.
What has happened is that those films have started doing really well here, like the The Nun is exceptionally well here, while the Hindi-language movies have not done as well as it or a The Conjuring would do. But in many ways Tumbbad is the first film that can be considered a horror movie without using a lot of B-movie gore and sex to support itself.
AC: Being the first in an industry to get a genre film made can be very hard.
AP: First of all, it can be very hard to talk about the idea, because the film relies so heavily on the visuals, and it doesn't have a reference. So how do you sell a movie like Tumbbad in India, or anywhere else? This is not a film where we had the script first, and then we shot it. The film has been evolving, and [score composer] Jesper Kyd, between the film I sent him, and the final cut, there was a lot of difference. The first version that he saw was more than 120 minutes, and what you have seen is closer to 100 minutes. But before that there was a three-and-a-half-hour-long cut.
It was solely because of Sohum Shah, the lead actor and producer, that the film got made. It was purely because of his madness, and his ambition that drove his film. … You do not normally spend so much money on a film unless you have a star, and even then they ask you to bring down the darkness, bring in something lighter, add family values, make it more universal – which I understand from a commercial point of view. It was purely because we had Sohum as a producer.
AC: How did the film change over the production?
AP: At first, the idea was that we'd make a very, very small, atmospheric film with less drama, and a more clinical approach. That's how the film started – let's spend a little money and make a little film. Before we arrived, it started getting more ambitious and more ambitious, and we started getting greedy. At first we had no references and no precedents: At that time, even Marvel films weren't doing that well in India. But we just believed that there was something in it, and what happened over the course of six years is that the ambition kept getting bigger. Even the presence of Jesper is a sign of that. The background score is not given that much of an importance in Indian movies – it's always about the songs. The songs make the album, not the background score. So even bringing someone like Jesper, and spending a lot of money for the kind of film it is, and the region that we come from, to spend so much money to give it scale and make it epic – that's been the story of making this film.
AC: Jesper, you have a major career as a composer for game scores (Assassin's Creed, Borderlands). What was it that brought you on board?
Jesper Kyd: Maybe that's a question for Adesh, what they saw in me, but once they sent me the cut they sent to me, I was completely into it. I felt I got what they were trying to achieve with this movie. Like Adesh said, the cut I first saw has changed quite a lot from where it is today, and I liked the idea of a horror movie. But it's not even so much that it was a horror: It felt like it had a purpose behind it, it felt like a very passionate project, and by the time you finish watching it, you go, OK, there's a message in here, and it's very positive, and very timely.
Mon., Sept 24, 8:20pm
Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 20-27. For more news, reviews, and interviews, as well as our daily show with the oneofus.net podcast network, visit austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.