Why Jesper Kyd's Stunning Score Is The Living, Breathing Monster In Tumbbad

Kyd is a BAFTA-winning musician, who has scored for blockbuster video game series', Assassin's Creed, Borderlands and Hitman.

Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad’s Tumbbad is so deeply rooted in a world of its own, that after a point it engulfs its audience. As a character pierces his way through dusty cobwebs and dense foliage of an abandoned mansion, you feel the need to dust your hands every few minutes. One significant element that enables the makers of Tumbbad to trap its audience in this ‘reality’ is Danish composer, Jesper Kyd’s brilliant score.

So much so that one of the tracks by Kyd – The Greed Manifests, sounds like an organism breathing slowly and heavily. Starting with the percussion that you would usually associate with a street celebration in Maharashtra, the gradual crescendo belongs in a particularly interesting scene in the film. Here, we discover Vinayak’s stubborn claim over the treasure in spite of his mother’s repeated threats/warnings to turn away from it. “That scene was electric to me and I needed to find a way to get this electricity into this music,” Kyd says about the track, and the deliberate choice to include ‘murmur vocals’.

The Birth Of Hastar is along the lines of a conventional ominous score for a dystopian horror film. The synth elements in this, resemble a Vangelis track from the original Blade Runner. Interestingly in both films, humanity is rotting away because of inherent greed, before reaching a higher reckoning.

Kyd is a BAFTA-winning musician, who has scored for blockbuster video game series’, Assassin’s Creed, Borderlands and Hitman. For the uninitiated – Kyd is a massive name in the gaming world. And that’s why his inclusion in a film (that is based on some extremely specific folklore and setting), is one of the most intriguing choices. Kyd was extremely prompt and generous in accommodating us for a quick chat. Here are the excerpts from the conversation:

1. What was the brief for Tumbbad, how did you get involved with the film? 
I was approached by Adesh Prasad (co-director) and after he sent me an early edit of the film, we had a meeting on Skype. It became clear from the start that they were looking for something unique, not particularly too Indian or too Western. A sound that would give the movie its own strong identity, something that felt timeless. It needed to be a score that would not only fit into every scene but also one that belonged to the world of Tumbbad. Once I saw the movie, I knew I wanted to be involved. There was no brief from Adesh, apart from motivating me to experiment as much as possible. I love being involved with projects that challenge me and this was definitely going to be a challenge. And that’s how I got on board.

2. What were the influences you were looking at, considering the incredibly specific folklore of the movie?
Rahi Anil Barve (co-director) had done some incredible world-building with this film, so we made our own rules about how the scenes should feel, and sound like. The Bulgarian choir was one of the first tracks I wrote for the movie, and it was a really spontaneous idea. I call that track ‘descending’, meaning we descend into a place where all our dreams come true. It plays as Vinayak (Shah) finally finds the treasure that has haunted him his whole life. He gets everything he ever dreamed of. But he doesn’t live happily ever after. This is incredibly interesting. What happens if you suddenly get everything? How does that change you? It’s fascinating to watch Sohum Shah go through this process without a worry in the world, until suddenly, he’s unable to control the desires he has let spin out of control.

Regarding influences, I was finishing a Viking score called Warhammer Vermintide 2, with my own vocals after teaching myself how to throat sing and so on. So I performed the vocals for Tumbbad as well. The vocal whispers on ‘The Greed Manifests’, was inspired by the intense scene on the river. Since there’s a lot of dialogue in that scene, the music needed the right balance. The voices were a good way to symbolise the greed in Vinayak’s head. The greed music builds up slowly and then it finally roars as we go into Part 2 of the film. It was important to make this amplification and manifestation very clear.

Part one of the movie, we started with musique concrète, found objects kind of music making. So the instruments I use are very much part of what you see on screen, inside Vinayak’s childhood home. It’s a raw sound that amplifies the realistic images shot by Pankaj Kumar and the instruments are made of wood, clay or metal. It’s more of a horror score mixed with analog and modular synths.

The second music style is focused on mythology and the opening theme was written for a 14-piece choir which we recorded in Toronto. I brought music with me such as recordings from my studio with my young kids screaming different parts, thematic variations of themes and a ton of technical ideas such as which words to reverse, how to accelerate while during a de-crescendo, etc. It all worked out great and we got some really good performances. The main theme is performed on a cimbalom (large dulcimer).

The third style is a smaller more personal sound written for solo instruments. The focus on this part of the score is to feel Vinayak’s actions and how they relate to his family. The main instruments here are piano, cello and strings.

3. What is the one major difference between scoring for a game and a feature film? What are the specific challenges involved with either of them? 
Well, sometimes there is only a small difference if, for example, the music in a video game follows the narrative like in a movie. But if the game is an open world then there’s a bigger difference. In general, most of my scores for games are genre scores for sci-fi, horror and fantasy. I have been very lucky to have been asked to come up with a more unique type of score for most of my games. This is something I have done for the Assassin’s Creed series, the Hitman series, Borderlands series, Warhammer Vermintide series, State of Decay series and Darksiders 2. In some ways, a film can be easier to relate to since the narrative makes it more clear where we need to go. With open world games it’s impossible to know when the gamer will decide to do what and so that presents all kinds of interesting and technical challenges to overcome. Video game scores are becoming more and more challenging to write and for Tumbbad I felt like I was set free by the team’s requests and desire for me to go as far as possible.

4. What did you listen to while developing the score of Tumbbad?
I try to not listen to a lot of music when writing a score since I don’t want other music to creep into my music writing. As I mentioned earlier, I had just finished a medieval Viking fantasy scores, and this was a good springboard into some of the darker music for Tumbbad.

5. What was the single most inspirational thing in the script that dictated the style and the mood of the music?
There are some great quotes in the movie. When Vinayak’s grandmother calls him greedy, to which he says: “It’s the only quality I have.” Also, “not everything you inherit should be claimed” is very important and so true. And finally Gandhi’s opening quote, “There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” These are quotes that stayed with me when writing the score.

6. What do you listen to… to unwind?
I love lots of different music styles. Bands such as Royksopp, film composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and classical composers such as Stravinsky, Ottorino Respighi, Camille Saint-Saens and Claude Debussy. I tend to seek out mysterious music with a lot of depth, music that creates a sense of wonder.

7. Will the Indian fans be able to get their hands on the entire OST?
Yes, we are working on getting the Tumbbad soundtrack released as soon as possible.

You can listen to the tracks in Tumbbad on Jesper’s official website, by clicking here.