Tabbar review: Pavan Malhotra aces every single frame of this gripping series

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To what lengths will an essentially humane, law-abiding man go when an unexpected situation blows up in his face, threatening the lives of his family? ‘Tabbar’, which means ‘family’ in Punjabi, grapples with this conundrum in this eight-part Sony Liv web series, which stays consistently gripping even as it leapfrogs over the occasional exaggerated situation, or comes up with a too convenient solution to what seems like an intractable problem. What aids us in putting those niggles behind, having taken note of them, is the strong story-telling which keeps returning to its core strengths, and the great ensemble that ‘Tabbar’ assembles, topped by Pavan Malhotra who aces every single scene.

The heavy use and abuse of drugs (‘peela’) in Punjab. The rich and the powerful who are the conduits to the dealers and sellers. And the innocents stuck in between. Ajitpal Singh, the director of the wonderful ‘Fire In The Mountains’ jumps headlong into a jumble of genres: crime, thriller, family drama. Given that Singh’s debut feature was such a quiet yet powerful observational piece with near documentary veritas, I was curious how he would fare with something that’s so much more, for lack of a better word, mainstream.

Pavan Malhotra in a still from Tabbar.

Singh brings his deep familiarity with the milieu to the fore, and creates felt characters. Omkar and his wife Sargun (Supriya Pathak) live in a humble home with their two sons, the older one (Gagan Arora) who is in Delhi, ostensibly studying to clear competitive exams, and whose single impulsive action sends the family down a rabbit hole, and the younger one (Sahil Mehta) trying to find a way out of his cramped situation. The nameplate outside has the words, ‘Happy House’, and you keep returning to it as an ironic counterpoint through the series: how happy can its inhabitants be when an accidental killing changes everything?

No glitches in the accents makes the actors sound right. Ranvir Shorey shows up as Ajit Sodhi, a moneyed businessman who spends his time worrying about his wayward younger brother’s disappearance. Sodhi has political ambitions, and a grizzled well-wisher (Kanwaljeet) to show him the ropes. The parallels between this family which appears to have everything, and that other one whose sons are struggling to better their status, right or wrong, both trying to cope with loss of a way of life, gives the series a chance to go deep with the drug angle, with a very ‘Udta Punjab’ vibe.

When it tries exploring the doings of dealers in their dens, or looking closely at the drug chain, ‘Tabbar’ strays. It does best when it stays close to families and family matters. Omkar’s rocky relationship with his older brother, and his cop son (Paramveer Singh Cheema) is done well, even if a romance featuring a young girl (Nupur Nagpal) feels a tad undercooked. The bickering between Omkar’s sons feels real, and the strong ties between him and his wife (Supriya Pathak is as impactful as ever even at her most morose) provide the cement for this family.

And we stay with it, wanting to know more. Will the innocents survive? Can parents and siblings be truly unaware of the wrong-doing of a beloved family member? And is anyone free of complicity when it comes to wider societal problems? You are left pondering, even as you revel in the performances. At one point when things are going as wrong as they can, Malhotra gets up from a table where he has been drinking, and completely unexpectedly, breaks into something resembling a dance: it is a moment. There is acceptance, and resolve, and a way out. Not everything is a dead end.

Tabbar cast: Pavan Malhotra, Supriya Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Gagan Arora, Sahil Mehta, Paramvir Singh Cheema, Nupur Nagpal, Kanwaljeet Singh

Tabbar director: Ajitpal Singh

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