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Tabbar review

By SREEHARI NAIR
Last updated on: October 18, 2021 14:51 IST
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There's the excitement of watching minor people commit major crimes and watching how that becomes their second nature, almost.
Just when you think the show is extending outwards, it implodes.
And with the ethical hinges off totally, you, the viewer, wouldn't know quite how to react, observes Sreehari Nair.

Tabbar, if one were to think about it with slight bitchiness, is the Drishyam trope offered the dual benefits of a longer running time and real emotional weight.

In Jalandhar, on a festive night, a family of four -- papa Omkar (Pavan Malhotra), an ex-cop, mama Sargun (Supriya Pathak), and their two sons, Happy and Tegi -- is visited by Maheep, the jacketed brother of a heavyweight, Ajeet Sodhi (Ranvir Shorey).

A scuffle ensues over a parcel that the whole of Punjab seems to be coveting and the family of four packs Maheep off for good even as Ajeet Sodhi waits for his Pra, in his lonely mansion, across from an empty plate and an untouched glass of wine.

Omkar's family lives in a small development where every lane leads to some close friend or relative (it's a community that time has knitted) and the show is about how this intricate social diagram gets disturbed when the moral bills are called in one by one.

With their backs to the wall, the four middle-class family members discover a capacity for killing, for scheming, for planting evidence, and for taking on figures well above their station.

 

Despite Tabbar's palpably juddering heart, there is a paradox that underlines the experience of watching it.

This tale of blood and bloody-mindedness is strongest in its moments of behavioural comedy.

It is strongest when its characters try to be impassive and apathetic under tough circumstances and to do the logical thing or do that which will ensure they survive another day. The show is at its weakest when it tries to be a morality play.

Steering the clunky chunks of Tabbar is Supriya Pathak -- perpetually in Sulbha Arya mode.

Every time she is on screen, Pathak turns the show into a medieval drama with herself as its poster face.

'Chalo koi gal nahi,' I thought, in a Malayali accent.

At least I can take heart in Pavan Malhotra's turn as Omkar, a homebody who, as the story progresses, regains some of that 'It's a dirty job but someone has to do it' spirit of his cop days.

Malhotra seems to know he is everybody's favourite under-rated actor, and this knowledge relaxes him endlessly.

He holds his neck up proudly, waiting always for a startling moment to loosen it. He maintains his composure at all times and gets spurts of wisdom when administered truth serum or when he is sloshed.

This is one of those silent showy performances and it comes with its own charm.

Then, there's the excitement of watching minor people commit major crimes and watching how that becomes their second nature, almost. Just when you think the show is extending outwards, it implodes. And with the ethical hinges off totally, you, the viewer, wouldn't know quite how to react.

In a moment of inspired writing, the elder son, Happy, invents a domestic dispute between his parents (his parents who adore each other) to save his own relationship.

Gagan Arora appears as Happy and the actor understands those small variations in body language that must be brought in to separate his interactions with his folks, with his male buddies, and with his girlfriend. Now, for a screen performer, that's more than just a trivial facility to possess.

Paramvir Singh Cheema and Nupur Nagpal, who play Gagan's first cousin and his girlfriend respectively, have a fuzzy kind of attractiveness.

They start off looking lost in their dimension and then, suddenly, reveal fresh personality facets, as if unspooling raw threads of silk.

Paramvir Singh Cheema, as Lucky, is especially brilliant, the star of the show. It's uncommon in an amoral tale for the nice man to be the most fascinating character but the long-limbed Cheema -- whose moustache flutters in a moment of heartbreak, and into whose face a smile often swims unexpectedly -- gives one of those rare performances in which transparency, resourcefulness and depth of feeling blend seamlessly.

Toward the final episodes, things begin to take a bizarre turn, the dead come to life, those who are alive behave out of character, and yet, weirdly enough, this is when the show feels 'most free'.

The pen, I suppose, does flow best when it is not conflicted by a fear of being crude or amateurish.

The female personages who are on the fringes, the kakis and the chachis, ones who do their tittle-tattle while preparing Langar on the side, all seem lifelike.

Ali Mughal who appears as Multan, Ajeet Sodhi's henchman, has a Jaideep Ahlawatian sort of presence. Multan's intuitions speak louder than words, and he trains his intuitions based on his fundamental belief that no human being should be trusted, never in any case, as completely as you do a dog.

Though lit like every other Web series out there, there are clever visual motifs scattered through and through.

Ranvir Shorey is introduced in a long shot: The solitary figure in his mansion, presiding over a dinner all by himself.

The sound of bullets being fired is followed by a shot of a washing machine operating in full bloom. And there is a visual of tea bubbling regally to communicate thoughts being brought to a boil.

In addition to providing an ingenious prologue to every episode, there also becomes evident a genuine effort to make the transition between scenes interesting.

A scene ends with Shorey's Ajeet Sodhi ordering that Maheep, his missing brother, be picked up and brought to him immediately. And that scene cuts to a scene of Omkar and his son, carrying away for disposal, Maheep's mutilated and fast-decomposing body bundled in a gunnysack.

There are all these irresistible bits but then there is Supriya Pathak's face, a face that appeals so fervently to your sympathy that you cannot help but look away.

What gnaws at you, also, is Ajeet Sodhi's everyday universe which looks as though it has been constructed merely to move the plot forward.

Sodhi is eternally surrounded by the press and by candlelight vigils, and it’s high time, perhaps, that our web shows learn to depict TV news channels and public protests with some imagination.

Everyone who's holding a placard, or everyone who's speaking out of a teleprompter, looks the same, conked out, spiritless, dispensable, so that the continuum on which the story should have played out goes missing for long stretches.

The continuum also goes missing in sequences where you see the plans of Omkar and his family being thwarted by well-meaning neighbours and friends. In these tense sequences, some careful infusion of tail-end bits, of post-scripts, of breathers, would have helped sharpen the rhythms of the commonplace.

That's the risk with mounting a morality play; the whole endeavour works only when it feels like it has just spilled out of life, and not transferred off the standard moral curve.

The truth is that is we do not experience life in instructive terms; we experience it through epiphanies, as we are dancing away our half-victories, through moments of false enlightenments, while moving from one delusion to another.

Tabbar is a fine show when it steps off the standard moral curve into that terrain where life is lived mistily, and lived in anticipation of small highs and a few passing seconds of clarity.

In parts at least the show exhibits a unique brand of artistic boldness. I tell you there were times when I wanted to offer myself to it. And that's when Supriya Pathak would materialise, arms spread out, trying to pull me into a cuddle.

Tabbar streams on SonyLiv.

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SREEHARI NAIR / Rediff.com