Supriya Pathak in 'Tabbar' on SonyLIV. (Image: Screen grab)
I did not expect to be hooked, but I am. Within ten minutes of the first episode, I am pausing the show and looking up the meaning of the title. The Punjabi word ‘Tabbar’ means ‘Family’. The letter ‘T’ is pronounced as you would ‘Tomatoes’, in Hindi you would use the ‘T’ in ‘Tamatar’ and not the gentle “T’ in ‘Tum’.
The story is as old as Joe Pesci searching for his duffle bag with eight severed heads (8 Heads in a Duffel Bag). That was a comedy, this is more like Liam Neeson in Taken using his special skills to bring his daughter back. This is like Nick Nolte’s lawyer who has to defend his home from a rapist he got convicted 14 years ago (Cape Fear). Tabbar is also about a family that finds itself falling deeper and deeper into darkness, but is unable to stop. Tabbar is about the lies you have to tell as a family to hide one wrong and watch everything break down.
I burst into tears watching Pavan Malhotra’s Omkar stand up to walk to the old fridge for the insulin injection for his wife Sargun (Supriya Pathak), because my dad does the same for mum. This is home, and you recognise the innate decency of the man. But then you wonder what devils drove this elderly couple to do what they did at night at the farm. You meet the two sons, and you know you have met them somewhere. You love the simplicity of their life problems: the kitchen exhaust fan is broken. If this is an introduction to a family, then I would want them to win against all the bad guys that are out there.
Ranveer Shorey plays the bad guy Ajit Sodhi who’s running for elections. His brother Maheep does everything to ruin those chances as younger brothers are wont to. But there’s the scary, super scary character called Multan. Ali Mughal offers us the same ‘vibes’ as Vishal Tyagi of Paatal Lok. And this dude, too, has a dog as his constant companion in the SUV. He’s Ajit Sodhi’s muscleman.
Omkar and Sargun love their two sons Happy and Tyagi, and their characters are everything you’d expect them to be. The son of a cop should become a cop, right? So Happy has been sent off to Delhi from Jalandhar to study for his UPSC exams so he could become an IPS officer and fulfill his father’s dreams. Omkar is also an ex-cop. Tyagi is the younger sibling, wanting to become a rap star and has dreams of having his own channel which thousands will watch.
An encounter with Maheep Sodhi turns the life of this family upside down. And just like a stone when Maheep falls into the deep pond of Omkar’s Happy House (ironically, that’s the name of their home), the ripples affect their god-fearing neighbour, his wife and daughter Palak. Now Happy loves Palak, but she’s engaged to Happy’s cousin Lucky who’s a cop. Lucky is Omkar’s older brother’s son. The ripples from Maheep’s entry into Omkar’s home reach you too.
I watched in horror as their truly happy home turned into a nightmare. There’s blood spilt and not by choice. The more they try to hide it all, the worse it gets. And the storytelling is so compelling that you will watch as the lies and blood keep mounting. The scariest part (and yes, rather over the top) is the appearance of a crow that shatters Sargun's already fragile mind. Like Lady Macbeth, she too begins to see blood on her hands. Omkar tries to explain that they had to get rid of a bad guy who entered their home, but she realises that no amount of stepping into the cleansing water of the gurudwara is going to clean her conscience.
Lies, clues to murder, more lies, politics that get murkier with every episode, suspicion and violence… Tabbar will give you sleepless nights. It is a tough watch because we know what Omkar is doing may be wrong, but it is for his family. And it doesn’t help when Baba Farid’s quotes are laid out at the beginning of each episode. As the plot turns murkier and we realise that the director is forcing you to watch what is unpalatable. It is as Baba Farid says, ‘Farida galiye chikkad door ghar, naal pyare neh,/ chalau toh bhejje kambli, rahaan ta tutte neh.’ (O Farid, street is muddy, house of my beloved is far,/ My clothes get wet if I walk, stay I lose my love.’)
Choices like these are hard. And Omkar has to make them for his family. At first, Happy wants to tell the cops and come clean. But he sees a cop at the station beat a confession out of a suspect, and he comes back, knowing that he has no option but to become a part of the deceit.
The story is powerful, no doubt, but the way the story pans out is marvelous. Not an extra tear is shed. The tears of regret belong to only Sargun. The two sons and their father, her husband, have set her world on fire. This is a story of greed, crime and circumstances that turn good, honest people into villains. But then why does my heart stop in its tracks when I see an electrical strip bob dangerously over the water? Why do I cry with Pavan Malhotra? Why do I feel my heart sink into my stomach when Lucky begins to suspect that everything is not all right at Happy House?
Apart from a bit of an over-acting conscience from Sargun and the unpredictability of Ranveer Shorey’s character, everything is reined in tightly. It’s a controlled explosion of my feelings as I watch the show, filled with darkness, and the couplet from Baba Farid stays with me:
‘Kaale mere kapde, kaala mera ves,/ gunhi bhariyan main phiraan, lok kahein darves.’ (Black are my clothes, black is my garb,/ Full of failings I wander, people call me sage.’)
This is a superb series that will shake up your views on good versus bad. Watch it!
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.