‘Tabbar’: an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a price on its head

Every family unit has, like an organization, an operating expense. Look beyond the text messages that inform its members of yet another instalment repaid from a here-today-gone-tomorrow deposit, and you’ll discover a critical currency that runs it—the bit-by-bit-coins of emotions that are invested in this enterprise. There’s some deposits, and more often than not, large withdrawals that up the tension in what, on paper, is a give-and-take setup. But come a crisis and the coins pack themselves into a protective umbrella to stave off any inimical cloud. 

In Tabbar (Family)—an eight-episoder created by Harman Wadala and directed by Ajitpal Singh (associate director on the chillingly good Gurgaon)—the family of Omkar Singh (Pawan Malhotra), Sargun (Supriya Pathak Kapur), and their sons Happy (Gagan Arora) and Tegi (Sahil Mehta) face a nuclear rumption that’ll require more than an aggregation of emotional resources to see them through. Set in the by lanes of Deep Nagar in Jallandhar,  an accidental run-in with Maheep Sodhi (Rachit Bahal), younger brother of powerful politician Ajeet Sodhi (Ranvir Shorey) has the family trip into a labyrinth of horror, every passage a turn into darker territory. This, even as Ajeet has his own ongoing election slugfest with another politico Pankaj Ahuja (Rohit Khurana). 

Gagan Malhotra, Supriya Pathak, Sahil Mehta, Pawan Malhotra: family matters.

As the family plays a game of landmine while trying to keep up appearances with their common-walled neighbors—the Mahajan couple (Babla Kochar and Seema Kaushal, very good) and their daughter Palak (Nupur Nagpal making the most of her torn-feelings role)— and Omkar’s elder brother and his cop son Lucky (Paramvir Singh Cheema, absolutely likeable), their liminal state teeters on the cliff of extermination. 

It’s in the decisions and actions that Omkar executes that the serial touches the boundaries of far-fetched: part-Drishyam, part-incredulous, what holds you back is the writing (Harman WadalaSandeep JainMr. Roy) and the constant simmer of danger that hovers over the series like an Eye of Sauron; not always visible but omnipresent, glowering, glaring, and injecting itself like the lines of the yellow powder that run across the storyline—a drugged premise that’s all too real and present in the state of Punjab and its youth. This is no live-wire Udta Punjab, though. It’s a branch off of the menace that burns its path from the fields of high to explode into ordinary homes. 

Every episode derives its title, theme, premise, and philosophy from the Shri Guru Granth Sahib hymns of Baba Faridthat speak of the forces of karma that plunge human beings into seeming darkness, their struggle to dig out the truth, achieve awareness, follow the path of righteousness, and ultimately understand the meaning of detachment and letting go. It’s a deep, under-the-radar connect, running in parallel and in the opposite direction to how Omkar reacts. Or is it? 

Paramvir Singh Cheema, Gagan Arora: talk me through.

Tabbar, despite its foray into the fantastical, is a terrific achievement, one made possible by some outstanding cinematography (Arun Kumar Pandey’s work throwing you into the action and tension without fireworks) and rumbling background score (Sneha Khanwalkar, also composing Baba Farid’s hymns to gut-wrenching effect). Mukesh Chabbra’s casting is bull’s-eye, which is what elevates the series. Supriya Pathak, as the troubled conscience of the story-line makes you struggle with what her character does, she’s simply hypnotic; Gagan Arora adds a touch of sympathy to his troubled and unfortunately-named Happy; Sahil Mehta as the blowzy Tegi is heartbreakingly vulnerable and angsty; Ranvir Shorey as Ajeet, wired and dangerous, while Ali Mughal as Multan, his trusted associate, is a highlight—if looks could kill, his freeze you to stuttering death; Akashdeep as Chachaji, another Sodhi family trusted senior is very good, too. The talented Kanwaljeet, sadly, is in an under-written role. 

And Pawan Malhotra, that under-rated, unsung, and under-used actor is back after the thought-provoking, though melodramatic Grahan. Here, he’s in top form, chewing at the scenery and your emotions with ease. He owns his character with a subliminal power, his act residing in his eyes, creasing to hide his character’s demons, pain, and fears. Malhotra’s Omkar Singh knows the ultimate expense of keeping a family alive. It’s to asphyxiate one’s soul and invite the wrath of karma all over again. 

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Tabbar is streaming on Sony LIV and rated  A (For Adults Only) for violence and disturbing themes.

Director Ajitpal Singh Time ~ 40 min
Writers Harman Wadala, Sandeep Jain, Mr. Roy
Stars Pawan Malhotra, Supriya Pathak, Ranveer Shorey, Gagan Arora, Sahil Mehta
Genres Drama, Thriller