Ajitpal Singh’s ‘Tabbar’ premieres on SonyLiv, as streamer launches in Canada

A scene from 'Tabbar'
A scene from ‘Tabbar’

In an exclusive interview, the award-winning filmmaker speaks about “Tabbar,” — which is available in Canada — and independent films, among other topics.

Award-winning filmmaker and writer-director Ajitpal Singh’s first original series Tabbar, a family drama, premiered on SonyLiv on October 15. The film’s release coincided with SonyLiv’s launch in Canada. Tabbar is streaming in 28 global territories that the platform is available.

Earlier this year, Singh’s debut feature Fire in The Mountains had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021 and his short film Rammat Gammat, which he wrote and directed, premiered on Mubi. Fire In The Mountains received glowing reviews and has won eight awards so far, including Jury and Audience awards for Best film, Best Director, Best Actor (Male and female lead).

Singh’s first screenplay was part of Sundance Screenwriters Lab 2012, where it won the Sundance Grant. His mentors were Oscar winner filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy) and Oscar Nominated screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams), Michael Goldenberg (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries), Howard A. Rodman (Savage Grace) and Marcos Bernstein (Oscar nominated Brazilian film Central Station).

Ajitpal Singh
Ajitpal Singh

This year was not just about highs for the film maker. Singh was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in February. He shot the series in March during the pandemic and just three weeks after undergoing the surgery.

The series is a homecoming for the filmmaker whose father, a farmer and ex-army man, ran a cinema hall in Bathinda, a rustic town in Punjab, India, but had to migrate to Gujarat after long curfews in the face of militancy when Singh was a young boy.

With Tabbar Singh joins the ongoing global trend of series that present slices of life realities to audiences around the world. The show features ensemble stellar cast like Pavan Malhotra, Supriya Pathak, Gagan Arora, Kanwaljit Singh and Ranvir Shorey. Just ahead of the big premier, the filmmaker spoke with the American Bazaar about Tabbar and alternate Indian entertainment finding an audience in the Americas.

 AB: Let’s talk about the Canada launch of SonyLiv with your first series Tabbar. Do you think it is relatable to Indian audiences in North America?

AS: I am glad that SonyLiv is launching in Canada with Tabbar. Earlier this year, my debut feature, Fire in the Mountains, premiered at Sundance and my short Rammat Gammat premiered on Mubi. Both have been screened around the globe. As a storyteller, I believe we can transcend borders. I hope audiences in Canada and around the world will enjoy Tabbar.

AB: Tell us a bit more about Tabbar. What storyline and emotions does it touch upon?

AS: I am always attracted to stories that provide me possibilities and freedom to explore subtext and themes. Tabbar is one such story. On the surface, it’s a crime thriller, but once you dig deeper, it’s a human drama and you will find themes like God vs. no God, Evil vs. Good, drugs along with spirituality and suffering. I was confident that if I was given freedom, I will be able to shape this story in a very refreshing way mainly because I also come from Punjab and I understand that land very well. I am grateful to Sony and Jar Pictures for giving me a free hand. Set against the backdrop of Jalandhar, the show consists of eight episodes charting the journey of a retired police constable who pushes the boundaries to save his family from the consequences of an unfortunate incident and promises a memorable thriller in the heart of rural Punjab.

AB: Let’s talk about this trend of alternate Indian cinema suddenly becoming an international festival favorite. Did we just tap this market or have our stories improved?

AS: I don’t know if it’s a permanent change or if it’s just flavor of the month. I mean we always have had talented filmmakers and many of them broke into the festival circuit and markets in the past too. Like Satyajit Ray, Meera Nair, Adoor Gopalkrishnan, and Ritesh Batra, to name a few. But India has not become the darling of the festivals like South Korea did, or Iran did, or Russia did, or Japan did.

Part of that reason for that is Bollywood, the world mostly thinks Indian cinema means Bollywood; so they don’t really pay that much attention to our indie cinema.

AB: As a self-taught filmmaker, what are the challenges, if any you face in India and abroad?

Lack of network, when you come from a film school, or if you assist a famous filmmaker, you get to know the industry and it becomes easier to find work and make your film. When you are self-taught and don’t assist someone famous, you have to be ready to put in hard work for many years before you find any recognition and well paid work.

AB: Many small budget movies have won international critical acclaim. What may have been the reason for their acceptance? 

AS: When the money involved is not big, one can take the risk and push boundaries. Awards are usually given to films that are different, insightful and leave a lasting impact. Thus it’s mostly smaller films with a large heart that steals the show.

AB: Let’s talk about your work. How were they received in the US market?

AS: Fire in the Mountains got some rave reviews at Sundance and then won awards at two more festivals, we have a U.S. distributor onboard, and most likely we will have a theatrical release soon, only after that I will really know how it will be receive.

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