How far will you go to save your own? Would you break the very law that you once swore to upheld and protect? This ethical question is at the core of Tabbar, the eight-episode crime thriller series on Sony LIV, created and written by Harman Wadala and directed by Ajitpal Singh. Pawan Malhotra is Omkar Singh, a former constable in the Punjab Police. He lives with his wife Sargun (Supriya Pathak) and his younger son Tegi (Sahil Mehta) and runs a small grocery store. Things take a turn when upon returning home from Delhi, his IPS aspirant elder son Happy (Gagan Arora) shoots a drug peddling brother of local businessman Ajeet Sodhi (Ranvir Shorey) in the courtyard of their home, after the peddlers bag full of drugs gets exchanged (or so we are made to believe in episode 1) with Happy's. All hell breaks loose with Omkar scrambling to find a way to dispose off the body, not let the information of the murder leak to the police while keeping his loved ones safe and out of jail.
The consequences of the shooting play out in the following episodes leading Omkar and his family down a dark rabbit hole; one which involves more death (Omkar hangs his neighbour who was blackmailing him making it look like suicide), lies, deception, heartbreak, Sargun's slow mental breakdown and Tegi's resentment against his father who he believes treats him unfairly. All of this is balanced with the right dose of drama, thrill and rustic music by Sneha Khanwalkar. Wadala lays enough easter eggs throughout the screenplay; for instance the alarm on Omkar's watch is used repeatedly as a trigger point for other characters to make the connection between him and the murder, a worn out bank card helps in tying up a subplot involving Lucky, Omkar's nephew and a policeman and Happy. And while there are creative liberties taken, Ajitpal ensures that the tension never slips and the proceedings do not drag on for too long with a climax that emphatically shocks and is undoubtedly the finest moment on a streaming show this year.
The show is however not perfect. Some subplots such as the love triangle between Palak (the neighbour's daughter), Happy and Lucky is left behind after beginning as a conflict, problems seem to always find easy solutions (generally involving cold blooded killings by Omkar), coincidence plays a major role and Sargun's hallucinations that get worse with each passing episode with her seeing zombies in the final episode seem out of place in a series that is rooted in the grimness of Punjab and the drug menace, the politics, the strong arming tactics and the bustling music scene.
But these are only minor hiccups in an otherwise fantastic show. Ajitpal builds the world with precision, allowing the strained emotional state of the characters to simmer and the actors support his endeavour by creating a world that is viscerally dark, hard hitting and delving into a side of family life that is rarely explored. Both Pavan Malhotra and Supriya Pathak are sublime as the parents. Malhotra who plays a Sardar the second time this year after Grahan gets two terrific sequences which he absolutely nails. The first involves him getting drunk at a highway bar because he is out of moves on how to save his family and breaking out into a jig as the night and the volume of the alcohol bottle dips. Malhotra makes it believable because up until this point, he builds his character as a man who has not had one weak moment in the face of a great tragedy.
Another scene is one where Happy confesses something devastating (it lays bare the logic and justification of the first murder) but instead of going the predictable route, Malhotra moots the emotion letting his eyes and a single tear do the work. Supriya Pathak on the other hand is handed an archetypal mother's character i.e. emotional, loves her family but cannot fathom breaking the law. She acts as a perfect foil to the stiff Omkar. But, to her credit, she does not come across as weak but only as someone who feels guilty and fearful all at once. An instance of this is when she against her own instincts decides to participate in killing Lucky in order to save Happy. She makes her hallucination sequences touching with each passing episode and adds a layer of vulnerability that is hard to achieve.
Gagan Arora and Sahil Mehta manage to hold their own against the stalwarts, both getting scenes to shine. Mehta especially gets across his rage extremely well. Ranvir Shorey is terrifying and merciless as Sodhi, with the added layer of a man looking to avenge his younger brother's death. But, he gets sidelined in a role that forgets his existence for large parts of the story only to be invoked in the final episode to provide closure to his arc. Other smaller characters also shine, such as Paramveer Cheema's Lucky who is endearing.
Even in the final moments of the show, Tabbar does not relent and refuses to glorify Omkar. After Omkar tells Sargun, "sab theek ho gaya", Sargun, who by now has suffered a mental collapse, confesses to her crimes on a dead phone line. Watching this, Omkar decides that it is necessary for him to do the unthinkable. He feeds her her favourite gajar ka halwa mixed with sugar (she is diabetic) and heart attack inducing medicine, delivering a jolt that not only punishes Omkar for all his wrongdoings but also surprises the viewer and makes stark the irony at hand. Tabbar is grim, uncomfortable to watch and asks questions that are not easy to answer. It is the kind of show that constantly challenges you rethink your own moral compass, subtly makes commentary on societal hypocrisy. It succeeds in being empathetic yet cruel towards its characters, pushing the conventional limit of a crime thriller series. Tabbar is a must watch.