“Tumbbad” is an Indian horror film featured in the Fantastic Fest lineup this year. The film is based on the fictional demon god Hastar and one man’s (Vinayak) search for Hastar’s treasure. We had the opportunity to speak with the film’s co-writer and co-director, Adesh Prasad, and the film’s composer, Jesper Kyd (pictured above).
How did you come up with the story of Hastar in the village of Tumbbad?
Adesh: It was obviously not just one time when we had this genius idea: ‘whoa, I know that this is the world, this is the history.’ It started from an idea that there is this demon god that lives within this well and he is the keeper of this treasure. You pull his loincloth, and you get these coins, right? So that was the first idea that was pitched and that was it. We didn’t have anything before this or after this.
The world around it was created over the course of the many many years of the production. In fact, even the poem that you hear about the food right at the beginning was actually the last addition in the film. Until then, I was probably the only one insisting that we need an entry point to this film. Later on it just became clear that in order to present the rules of this world we need this main creature that you’re talking about. We need to feed more information. It has taken that long to evolve into what you finally saw. It was not done before, written and shot and edited. It was like the film was constantly being written, rewritten, rewritten, and restructured.
Part of the curse mentioned in the film was that it’s raining all the time. How was shooting that?
Adesh: When you make a film that is meant to be shot in the monsoons, then you’ve already, production-wise, limited yourself to those two months when it actually rains in the part of the country where you want to shoot. Of course when we started making the film back in 2012, at that time it was supposed to be a very very small film. We had imagined that ‘oh these are the two months. We’ll shoot in these two months, we’ll be done and edit and then the film will be over.’ But then you realize, as we kept rewriting, we kept making the film more ambitious. Each time we had to wait for those months, for the monsoons to actually arrive, because you do not get the same light. You do not get the same clouds.
During the shooting there tends to be like 400 men waiting for the clouds to appear. Everyone – all the actors, the producers, the directors – everyone is waiting and looking through their eyepiece, like ‘where’s the cloud at?’ And the cloud appears for about a minute and you know it’s just a small cluster. Everyone runs and is like ‘okay we’ve got this cloud for just a minute – we need to wrap up.’ So that was the process.
What parts of the story or story beats most influenced the score?
Jesper: I think there is the mythology part that really connected with me first. I was a little intimidated by the whole womb/well scene; I knew that that was going to be a very key moment in the movie and that’s some of the last stuff I actually finished. I think there’s not a specific shot that inspired me, it was more like trying to get a handle on the mythology of the movie and of the fantasy aspect. I was trying to figure out ‘how is this world going to actually sound?’
The first part of the movie, with the kids, felt like it needed something very different, more like musique concrète and making music with found sounds and found objects. That also felt like ‘that’s something different, so maybe that’s not the best place to start either.’ So I would say somewhere in the middle probably.
It seems like the relationship between parent and child is a big theme in the film. What was the significance of that with the mythology, and did that affect the music at all?
Adesh: That is the key element in the film, at least for me. Thematically, that was my entry point into the narrative of the film. We were exploring the relationship between a parent and a child and how every child ends up becoming their parent. Even in the case of Vinayak, who actually hates his father, and ironically wants to be him, and he becomes him. The scene happens with his own child, that he wants to become his father, just to feel better about it, but then he breaks that cycle. It’s like how we all end up becoming everything we hate in our parents, you know? That always happens, at least what I observe. I think that’s how I at least entered the narrative of the film.
I do not know if it terribly influenced the music, the scoring of the film, per se. It’s still one theme that emotionally binds the entire narrative. I think we were essentially looking at it as three different films: we looked at part one separately, part two separately, part three separately. We did everything chronologically, trying to find the sounds and the variations, and basically not trying to hide the schizophrenic nature of the drama or the film, but to enhance it perhaps by creating three parts absolutely differently. I personally don’t think that ever came about in terms of how we musically translate the theme.
[To Jesper] Am I right?
Jesper: Yes, but there is something I’m coming to think about now that you mentioned it. One of the first things that I felt like we really started nailing in the music was the cello theme – that’s what we called it. That was a theme that was written right after Vinayak as a kid had survived the attack of his grandmother. That’s where it was first put and we were like ‘okay we like this theme,’ and we started putting it on when the kids were running across the field. It’s not there now, but we were like ‘oh this is interesting.’ And then I decided to play that theme on a cimbalom, which is this big table of a hammer instrument that you play, and we were like ‘wait a minute – I think we found the theme of the movie.’ So actually that did come about from what you just mentioned; that is where that theme is born from, but once it was on a cimbalom it became extremely mystical and mysterious, and that’s what opens the movie.
Was the story always going to be told in three parts, or was that something you came up with later?
Adesh: That was one of the very few things that was actually decided right at the beginning. Rahi [Anil Barve, co-director] had pitched this idea, it was his idea that there are three. It was six years ago, so forgive me if I am forgetting stuff, but I think he came to us with this world of Tumbad and these only three known incidents there. So it was supposed to be like three independent stories, but over time we decided it should be one person’s story. But it was still always divided into three different parts.
Jesper: And the music style, by the way, is also different in all three parts. The first part being more musique concréte and making music with found objects. It has a very realistic sound to it. The movie is very realistic in general, I thought, it really pulls you in with realism even though it’s a fantasy. And the second part feels more focused on the mystical and the third part being the more personal music with a lot of solo instruments and connecting with the family and the way that Vinayak acts and the way it affects his family..and his inner turmoil as well.
Were there any specific influences on the movie or the music from other pop culture?
Adesh: [To Jesper] Did we?
Jesper: Not in the music, I think. I remember you sent me maybe like two YouTube clips. One of them was a street performance of drummers. They were performing some drums and you said you liked the intensity of it. The other clip you sent me was really insane; it was like a 1960s Danish children’s show with some super flower-power music jamming in the background and this doll clapping that you wound up.
Adesh: Oh yes, I remember! You know what it was? It was something called “The Sinful Dwarf.” It had lots of sex and gore and it’s like a grindhouse film.
Jesper: It was so old-school, but I do remember this little doll is clapping and some guy is jamming in the background – it’s totally ridiculous. And I was like ‘what can we use from this?’ I do think we ended up using stuff from it because remember when we go to the womb at the end? And you were like ‘I want the sound of people clapping when we go down to the womb the last time.’ And I was like ‘I’m not sure I’m understanding this right. Is there a bad connection?’ You kept talking about the clapping and maybe that doll had something to do with that too. But it actually works! Maybe you have to see the movie a few times, but there’s clapping going on when you go down there at the end, and it feels really cool.
[To Adesh] What was the reason for the clapping?
Adesh: I wanted the score to have some organic quality to it; I didn’t want it to be just orchestral, or just instruments playing.
[To Jesper] If you remember, I also spoke about having snapping fingers.
Jesper: Yeah, the snapping is in the score.
Adesh: I wanted the snapping or the clapping because I just feel that these sounds have some organic quality to them and there is a certain way they have been used traditionally. I always imagined we would have something like this. They would only add more organic quality to it by using the sounds that the body can make.
[To Jesper] I remember I spoke to you about the whistling also. I was keen on having these sounds, more and more, to keep everything very, very ancient and very tribal in that sense.
Jesper: And we also used the musical saw, which actually ended up in the score, but it’s so processed that you can’t tell it’s a musical saw. It sounds like the circus when you start playing the musical saw, but it’s actually in the score.
Adesh: But I don’t think we ever spoke of any existing film score, and that has been the same process, even while writing and making the film. Everyone would ask ‘what is the reference for this film?’ And I would be at a loss for words; I don’t know what the reference is. Normally it’s just easier to say ‘it’s like this film, it’s like that film.’ I think the same approach happened with the music also. It’s always been about ‘okay this is the problem – let’s find a solution.’ So you’re not looking in other places for that situation.
The Fantastic Fest screenings of “Tumbbad” take place on:
- Friday, September 21 at 11 AM
- Monday, September 24 at 8:20 PM
Stay tuned for more Fantastic Fest coverage on Shuffle Online!
Featured image credit: Rick Kern