You don’t have to be immune to sin all your life in order to reach a happy ending; just the four or five moments that count.
I am not a fan of horror movies. I am not a fan of irrational supernatural beings whose powers and abilities arbitrarily change based on the needs of the script for cheap scares. I am not a fan of vengeful ghosts, devious demons, or dreadful curses. Tumbbad is different. It is rational, purposeful, and does not resort to cheap scares. The movie starts off with a quote from Gandhi. The world has enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed. That one line gives us a summary of the movie. We explore the extremes of human greed and its perils. I am going to assume you have already watched the movie. If I need to give context for each of the things I am going to say, I might as well type the entire movie script. So if you haven’t watched it already, go watch it and come back to read this.
Hastar represents endless greed, as you may have guessed. He embodies greed, as well as its consequences. He embodies the different faces of capitalism. He is an immortal supernatural being who has infinite gold. Yet, he kneels, grovels, and begs for the wheat doll Vinayak makes for him. He is trapped by the law of demand and supply. Vinayak recognizes that he has what Hastar wants. So he gleefully torments and humiliates Hastar. A simple doll made of wheat dough should not be worth all the gold Vinayak coaxes from Hastar’s loincloth. But that is what the wheat is worth to Hastar, who is trapped in an artificial scarcity of wheat. So Vinayak squeezes as much value out of it as possible. In the climax, when Vinayak tries to oversaturate Hastar, he finds that he cannot. Hastar matches Vinayak’s greed with his own. Each new doll brings out a new Hastar. There will never be enough wheat to satisfy Hastar. If you want a sustainable food distribution system, Hastar is your worst nightmare. All very capitalistic. It is interesting to note that Hastar, the embodiment of capitalism, has been brought low by communism. The other gods attacked him and kept the wheat out of his hands. He does not have access to the raw material. It is humans who have access to wheat, as well as the ability to process it into a doll that can be eaten by Hastar. The means of production, if you will, have been seized.
Let us talk about victims of the system who end up perpetuating the system as a result of their own injuries caused by the system itself.
Vinayak’s mother spent her entire life serving the Sarkar in hopes of “earning” the sole gold coin in his possession. Vinayak had no role models in either of his parents. His father, the Sarkar, was a greedy miser who squeezed out as much service as he could from Vinayak’s mother. His mother had greed of her own, which was pushing her to go to foolish lengths to reach the coin. There is nothing wrong with sex work. I do not judge her for providing sexual services as a means of earning the coin. What I take issue with is the fact that she was endangering the lives of her children in pursuit of the gold. She had lost sight of how steep a price she was paying for that coin. Her greed had blinded her to the fact that her children were regularly being placed in danger when they were at the house that imprisoned the Sarkar’s great grandmother, a seemingly immortal cannibal who had lost her humanity to her endless hunger. She realises her mistake a little too late, after Sadashiv dies. She then tries her best to dissuade Vinayak from ever thinking of the treasure of Tumbbad again. She fails, of course. The seeds of greed had been firmly planted in him by herself and the Sarkar.
The old woman had been cursed by Hastar’s touch. She was immortal and filled with endless hunger and thirst. This hunger had driven her to cannibalism, which resulted in her being imprisoned. We hear talking in her sleeping, claiming she wants no part of the treasure. She does not want to be the one to descend into the womb and steal from Hastar. She was not given a choice in the matter. She was forced to repeatedly retrieve coins from the womb, which eventually lead to her being caught by Hastar and cursed. The treasure was her undoing. She wants nothing to do with it. Yet, the treasure is the first thing she brings up as bait to lure the young boy to her. It caused her nothing but misery and she uses it to try to sate her hunger in the spur of the moment. She is a victim of the treasure and she extends the treasure’s reach.
Vinayak’s wife is a victim of patriarchy, who attacks Vinayak’s mistress, who is also a victim of patriarchy. Raghav sells his own widowed daughter-in-law (if we go by scenes which were cut from the final version of the movie) to Vinayak in order to keep Vinayak away from Tumbbad. So let us recap that. The woman was a widow who was supposed to be burned with her husband’s corpse. She was only spared by her father-in-law because he expected her to be useful to him in his quest to steal a bit of Tumbbad’s treasure for himself. She plays what cards were dealt to her. She uses her sexuality to make the best of the situation life threw at her. Vinayak’s wife knows this and tries to kick her out of the house. The wife may appear more powerful than the mistress at that point but they are both victims of a system. In a few years, the mistress has gained the upper hand, since she’s still living with Vinayak, enjoying everything he provides her, while the wife has to remain silent on that matter.
Let us talk about Vinayak’s family.
His wife is a voice of moderation, reason, and wisdom. When Vinayak went away to Tumbbad and took too long to return, she had the sense to start her own business. When he returns, Vinayak berates her for it, since her action made it look like her husband was impotent and unable to provide for her. This bifurcation is interesting and important. Vinayak went the route of gold while his wife went the route of wheat. She is the path away from Vinayak’s greed. She has seen Vinayak waste away in his greed. He may have all the wealth in the world but he is unable to enjoy it. Treats he used to love no longer taste any good. He is burdened with the thought of passing onto his son, his only legacy: The incredibly dangerous, most certainly fatal process of stealing gold from Hastar. His son has been practicing to be fit for the role. In Vinayak’s eyes, he does not seem to be good enough.
Here is where things get interesting. In several instances, we are shown that the boy is very much the son of Vinayak, rivalling his greed. He is shown to be greedy at every step of the way, except all the way in the end. Perhaps that surface level reading is what the makers of the movie intended. In an interaction with fans, the creators of the movie said they regret allowing the boy to conquer greed in the end. They said they had alternate endings where the boy gives in to greed. However, if we want an explanation for why the boy was able to make the “right” decision in the end, the pieces are already in place. He is a child who is trying his hardest to gain the approval of his parents. He is still young. The seeds of greed have not yet been permanently planted in him. His outward portrayal of greed is all just his attempts to gain his father’s approval. That is why he tries to woo his father’s mistress. That is why he comes up with the plan of trying to steal Hastar’s entire loincloth. However, he also has another influence. His mother. Despite not knowing anything about Tumbbad or Hastar, she is able to show her son that there is a path away from greed. When her son gives her a chocolate, she asks him if his father likes it. He replies with, “He doesn’t like anything.” To that, she asks, “Then what is the point?” It is a cryptic question that leaves him confused. He asks her what she means by it. She does not answer. He is left pondering.
When Vinayak sacrifices himself to save his son, it’s all very beautiful. But the true beauty lies in what happens after. He has managed to steal the loincloth. The loincloth with the infinite gold. He holds it out, as the agent of the system, attempting to pass it on to its next victim. However, his son does a wonderful thing. He puts him to sleep with the magic phrase and burns him. A merciful release from a dreadful fate. This choice is the culmination of the boy’s thoughts. He received several inputs from his father and mother over the course of the movie and this is the conclusion he reached. It shows that he is not just a one-dimensional being defined by greed alone. He has taken to heart, all the words he has heard. He has processed that information. He is capable of nuance. It is a level of depth that is rarely seen in most adult characters in the vast majority of movies, let alone a child character.
So, to the creators of this movie, I want to say, “Don’t worry. Your boy did not conquer greed. He is not immune to greed. He just made one right choice in his life. He will have many more chances to be greedy in his life. He just has to get it right four or five times.”