Asim Abbasi’s web series – Churails — that premiered on Zee5 on 11th August is a masterstroke by the director that I’m not sure Pakistan is ready for. However, I believe change comes when you least expect it, so the 10-episode feminist vigilante series is indeed what we needed to wake up.
With four boss ladies driving the narrative, Churails (witches) emerges as a winner in redefining the word commonly used as an abuse for South Asian women. The show has also given a new meaning to burka (veil) which is considered a woman’s shield, though the tables have turned in Churails. The women here are superheroes who use the burka as a symbol to wreck havoc on men who have ruined their lives in some regular and some unthinkable ways.
Asim, who loves to play with moral ambiguity, has penned a novel script with a few disturbing ideas taken from real-life incidents. The beauty of Churails is that despite being a women-centric show, written and directed by a man, it is not depicted in male gaze. It is neither preachy nor aiming for an ideal world where women are white and men are black. The writer has portrayed characters, as flawed as humans are, who are making the best out of complicated situations, striving to be ‘the best versions of themselves’.
And while the union of women belonging to completely opposite social strata of life appears to be implausible to some, the wounds they have suffered due to patriarchy are equally painful as well as their struggles and collective efforts to put men in their place.
Here are 7 reasons why Churails is a must-watch this week:
1. Women at the forefront
The show features Sarwat Gilani (Sara) as a lawyer turned housewife, Yasra Rizvi (Jugnu) as an alcoholic wedding planner, Nimra Bucha (Batool) as an ex-convict and Mehar Bano (Zubaida) as an aspiring boxer. All four of them have suffered at the hands of men — husbands or fathers — in their lives. They come together to open a covert detective agency to expose cheating husbands amongst the city’s elite, under the disguise of a fashion store named Halal Designs. But that’s just tip of the iceberg as they unveil some of the deepest, darkest family secrets while doing their business.
2. Not all men
It was presumed that Churails will show men in a bad light but Asim has proved naysayers wrong once again. You will witness a man who respects her girlfriends’ decisions no matter what and stands up to protect her, a man who unconditionally adores his boss despite knowing they have no future, and also an officer who admits his failings as well as his admiration for another flawed woman, a convict. Churails is a women-led vehicle equally supported by admirable men that we waited for long to see on-screen.
While each and every member of the cast stands out, those who particularly excel are Nimra Bucha with her piercing gazes and pauses as well as Mehar Bano, who hits it out of the park as the feisty Zubaida. Yasra Rizvi is effective as the brazen and rebellious Jugnu. Special mention to Kashif Hussain, who plays Zubaida’s boyfriend Shams aka biceps, and theater actor Fawad Khan, who is the police officer endearingly known as Boss; both of whom are quite a find.
You cannot keep up with the music in this show because it is so good. From the title track Churails to every song featured during 10 episodes, the list is brimming with quality music that contributes to the gripping narrative. You will also hear Kaala Re from Gangs of Wasseypur and Udta Punjab’s track Da Da Dasse as background scores.
The show has touched upon several themes from social stigmas, child abuse, child marriages, cheating husbands to controlling parents, behaviour towards LGBTQ+ community, instilling wrong values in boys, colourism, racism, classism, domestic violence, drug abuse and what not; some even through subliminal messages. In an attempt to do so, it may have bitten off too much but some of these storylines have been played so effectively that you will feel the universal pain.
6. Memorable cameos
Casting a trans actor to play a transgender was one of the many great decisions taken by Asim. The guest appearances or supporting cast in the series are phenomenal as they glue the sub-plots together and take the story forward. It is highly praise-worthy to use big names from the industry for memorable cameos; especially in case of Sania Saeed and Sarmad Khoosat’s part: you’re in for a surprise!
7. Direction & Production design
Asim is by far one of the strongest film directors in Pakistan. With only one feature film to his credit (Cake), he has proven that he knows how to tap into viewer’s imagination and emotions. That said, despite an intelligent use of colors and sounds to create mystery, some of the scenic metaphors seem too dark or vague to comprehend; and the circular pan one-shot sequences are also distracting at times.
While the production design by Aarij Hashimi is impeccable, there are a few oddities such as what appears to be a portrait of Vishnu (one of the gods in Hinduism) behind Yasra Rizvi while she is sitting in their headquarters. Also, stamps of ‘counterfeit currency and Eid Mubarak’ are clearly visible on 1000 rupee notes in one of the scenes.
Churails is an undeniable proof of Pakistan’s talent that was polished by Indian producers in the form of Zee5. It is a wake up call for local producers to realize that we have to put our money where intelligent minds are to keep up with changing times. The heavy use of explicit language, graphic content and probe into uncomfortable subjects in Churails may ruffle feathers in Pakistan but I think Asim Abbasi and Co. intended to do the same when they promised ‘Mard ko dard hoga’.
Disclaimer: We would recommend you to NOT cook nihari while you are watching this show. You will find out why!