And surprise, surprise: The man in this case does a decent job
If we ever have a competition of male allies in our showbiz industry, Asim Abbasi would top the list along with Osman Khalid Butt and Adnan Malik. I am no learned feminist but Asim Abbasi’s – the writer and director of Churails – brand of feminism resonates with me. Well, mostly.
Now, the purists’ ears might prick up at the mere mention of “brand”, because we know exactly what’s been happening lately. Brands have been using feminism to sell their pricey undies, tees, and pretty much anything that can be labeled “Feminist AF”.
While Churails has the said label strewn right across it in capital letters, it doesn’t fall under the exploitative category.
After watching the series, I can say that it is not just a clout-gaining tactic. One can see the effort Abbasi has made in educating those who are on the edge about declaring patriarchy the vilest of all evils in the society. His heart and soul is in it.
If that on-the-edge-about-feminism audience is even going watch Churails is a separate story! Meanwhile, let’s give it our best shot at convincing them to give this ZEE5 Premium web series a try.
When I first saw the teasers for Churails, the name arched my undone brows (thanks COVID). “What sort of a name is this?” I wondered aloud for anyone who would care to listen. Our Pakistani shows have such pyaaray pyaaray titles – Kaash Tu Meri Beti Na Hoti, Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat, Bezubaan, Bunty I Love You; So submissive and seeped in the strangling warmth of Pakistan’s culture. Ah, chef’s kiss.
Now all of a sudden we have Churails to deal with? Oh, my naazuk nerves.
Churail, witch, bitch….get the drift? Take anything, make it feminine, and there you have it – a term that is equal parts cunning and derogatory. Have you ever seen “wizard” or “dog” being used to insult anyone? Hence proven, masculinity, in any shape or form, has always been one dimensional. When Zee5 and Motion Content Group approached Abbasi, he thought to introduce us to the other dimension of being a churail, apart from the one propagated by our patriarchs.
After watching the web series, a churail, for me, is unapologetic, strength personified, and is reflective of people she comes across. You disrespect her, she disrespects you right back. You show confidence in her, she trusts you wholeheartedly. You cheat on her, she ch….nope, a churail has got dignity unlike her male counterpart. You cheat on her and she exposes you and your million other cheating brethren.
This right here is the premise of Churails.
It exposes patriarchy in all its ugly, naked glory.
As you speed through the episodes – you can’t snail through Churails, it is meant to be binged – you face uncomfortable revelations, which if presented to you in real life, might force you to turn a blind eye to, to keep yourself safe. Fighting patriarchy would mean facing the repercussions, and our internalized misogyny makes that an uphill battle. We’d rather sleep over the ugly truths than plaster them on the kitchen cabinets like Sara – one of our main leads – does.
Churails tells us what a woman should do when she notices societal norms eating away at her identity.
It opens with a perfect family of five, having a perfect breakfast, in a perfect patio until one of the perfect sons accidentally breaks a perfect plate. Suddenly, the perfect husband’s perfect demeanor comes crashing down with the crash of the poor unsuspecting plate. This is Sara’s family, who according to Jamil – played by Omair Rana – is striving to become the “best version of themselves”. Imperfections aren’t welcome in the Jamil clan.
This offers us a glimpse into what lies ahead.
The toxic men in Churails are all happy and angelic until you decide to break free from their puppetry.
The “Not All Men” brigade might enter the chat here. I’d suggest you save your breath. Churails shows good men too. But similar to the real world, they’re too far and few.
It is Sara (Sarwat Gilani) – a known politician’s wife – who initiates the ball-chopping business which brings Jugnu (Yasra Rizvi), Batool (Nimra Bucha), and Zubeida (Mehr Bano) together like a “family”.
Jugnoo, a “disgraced event planner”, is obsessed with booze and baubles – which occasionally fall on guests at weddings, hence, the “disgraced” tag. Zubeida, our boxer, escapes her Bata-flinging Abba one fortunate night. And guess who helps her? Our Ex-convict Batool! She doesn’t believe in talking. She only believes in killing – sometimes with eyes and at others with a good old fashioned National ki istree.
And this desi family follows the approved hierarchy; Our rich peeps (Sara and Jugnu) are the amma abba, who make their children (Batool and Zubeida) feel like they’re part of the decision-making process when in reality they’re not. The kids then end up making stupid decisions that land the family in trouble. In the world of Churails, most things are black and white. The rich are smart and dominating. The poor, dumb and jazbaati. At least in the initial episodes.
So you see, Churails is chock full of stereotypes
The stereotyping is so blatant and rampant that you won’t even notice it after the first two introductory episodes. The show does enter the murkier grey waters when eventually our leading churails use the proverbial terhi ungli to take out the ghee.
The series takes a good hour or so to establish and unite our four protagonists. They open up a harmless boutique called Halal Designs where they sell burqas of all shapes, sizes, and colours. They’re pretty inclusive and that inclusivity translates to their “real” business as well, which they run in their basement.
Neon signs, bunk beds, millennial pink markers (where do I get them?), and fancy gadgets to catch cheating husbands – this detective agency with the very original slogan “Mard ko Dard Hoga” is a dream space for anyone who identifies as a woman and a nightmare for men – the vile ones.
Because believe it or not, Churails has a grand total of three good men: Shams, Dilbar, and Inspector (we don’t know his name), who respectively have the butterflies for Zubeida, Jugnoo, and Batool. They support their lady loves in catching and curing the ugly ones from their specie and make me wonder if these figments of Abbasi’s imagination can ever manifest in real life.
Men, who don’t hinder the growth of women who are dear to them. Men, who let women fight their own fights. Men, who are in awe of the strength and intelligence of women.
Speaking of such ideal imaginary men, does Churails ever deviate from its message and propagates hating on men?
It shows how people in powerful positions abuse their power and in our society that’s mostly men. Women rarely reach the top spot and if they do, like our Jalwa owner(played by Hina Bayat); they become as toxic as the men they’ve passed on the way.
Again, a sweeping generalization made by the writer. You’ll see a lot of those so learn to take it with a pinch of salt, because unfortunately, most of them hold true.
Naturally, our four churails also find themselves taking dodgy decisions once they started taking on cases of women who feel cheated by their husbands. The information and money is exchanged through letterbox slits, protecting the identity of the churails and their team. Speaking of the team, it is heartening to see representation in its true sense as the sub-churails consist of two ex-convicts, a trans woman, prostitute, hacker, and a small town girl with big dreams.
The only person, who isn’t represented, is me – a dupatta clad fairly religious person and a feminist. One may argue I get enough representation on mainstream television channels. Well, those dramas often reduce people like me to shohar-needing and saas-pleasing beings, and apparently, so did Churails.
Moving back to the plot, the small town girl, Shakila AKA Sheila, opens a Pandora’s Box which climaxes in the final episode. But before that, we get to witness Abbasi igniting his inner Manto in the fourth episode. And who could be better than Sania Saeed and Sarmad Khoosat to play out the most uneasy yet riveting subplot of the web series. This episode did leave me with a question.
Should churails have really kept the truth from Shehnaz (Sania Saeed) to keep the two men happy?
It is from here on that you find yourself oscillating between two polar opposite feelings: “Oh God! I must look away from the screen” and “Oh god! I can’t look away from the screen?”
The story that has by now totally drowned in clichés – think eating chocolate when stressed, smashing plates to de-stress, smoking charas to come up with a bloody brilliant idea, talent agencies using their talent as sex workers, mullahs attacking Churails headquarter, and a killer enticing another person to kill – finds itself getting a rebirth; a very Star-Plus-like doosra janam if I might add.
Viewers, you were fooled.
You thought Churails was a feminist vigilante series with a sprinkle of Spy Kids vibes? You expected every episode to focus on a case and our churails saving the day in their burkas?
Our Sheila (and her exploited jawaani) go missing. Shehnaz begum decides to make nihaari to teach her husband a lesson, but this isn’t your normal nihaari from Nihaari Inn. This one becomes Breaking News. Jalwa – a whitening cream – enters the mix and so does Jugnoo’s dark past – Jackson. KK with his talent management company, Juice, decides to play an integral role in messing things up. So does Jugnu’s Ifti chachoo, who will give you the creeps as soon as he enters with his heavy dose of mansplaining and claims such as “Jitnee mohabbat mein aurton se karta hoon utnee mohabaat to shayad woh khud bhi khud se na karti hoon”.
He reminded me of a certain Mr. KRQ and from here on my notes referred to him as Ifti shady. And shady he was. In fact, he was so shady he couldn’t handle people a shade or two darker than him.
Wait, there’s more.
Batool’s quest for her lost daughter Mehak reaches a dead end twice before hinting toward something as sinister as Jameel’s silence in this whole turn of events.
And it is our fiery Zubeida who decides to save the day this time, but this only lands the churails in a safe house that is guarded by their enemies.
How did Churails go from a mild detective show to a murder mystery plus let’s-(literally) -unmask-the-mafia plus Ab Gora Hoga Pakistan show is beyond me!
But did all that unanticipated twists and reveals keep me hooked? Absolutely!
And you know who played a major role in keeping Churails riveting despite its longer than Misbah ul Haq’s innings episodes?
The DOP, Mo Azmi, and the absolutely brilliantly brilliant cast – not just the lead cast, but even the supporting cast and the guest actors – and their performances.
There wasn’t one moment where I felt like grabbing the camera and zooming it out or turning it around to see what’s happening on the other side. The camera caught the little nuances, keeping the audience abreast with the subtle changes in the mood and hinting toward what’s next.
And I’d surely love to know what’s next for the cast of Churails because they’ve won me over!
One of the biggest reasons for me to invest my time in Churails was Nimra Bucha. Ever since I saw her in Daam I knew she can do nothing wrong, and when I heard her say:
“Hum tou qanoon ke mutaabiq chalna chahte thai lekin phir pata chala ye qanoon tou bh***hod likha hi mardon ne hai” in the second episode, I knew I’d put my money in the right place.Batool
Batool was the only one who showed an upward trend on the character development front, especially since she (a little too) silently carried the show like a strong middle order batsman, who delivered for the entire batting line up at times (since we are using cricketing analogies here)!
Yasra Rizvi, again, has that no-nonsense vibe which is refreshing in this fake world of showbiz and that surely helped her channel Jugnu with so much panache. Although most of her dialogues made me go “Okay Boomer” in my head, she nailed the F-All vibe of her character.
Mehr Bano is a true feminist off-screen and she was even more fierce on-screen, especially her body language. Her portrayal as a hot-headed boxer, who loves her abusive family a little too much, was quite touching.
Sarwat Gilani was a welcome surprise with her transformation from a poised politician’s wife to a woman with a mission. Abbasi made Gilani’s eyes act and I agree with her when she says, “Churails is a rebirth for her as an actor”.
Don’t get me started on the boys – the good and the bad both. By now you must have realized that the men in Churails come in dual packaging – black and white. There was no grey involved. And might I add, “boys played extremely well”. I’m re-crushing on Adnan Malik and Fawad Khan, who played the Inspector, is such a natural that I’m THIS close to believing that he interrogates prisoners as a hobby in his free time. The actors who essayed the roles of Shams and Dilbar didn’t falter even once, holding the fort upright for our Churails.
Note to director: The background score helped set up the pace of the show. Well done you!
The romance in Churails was unconventional and I think that’s beautiful.
Would you imagine an Ivy League graduate Event Planner’s right hand man falling for her and you not finding it creepy? The class divide is real and we haven’t been conditioned to idealize a male worker falling for his female boss. It is always the other way round. Churails normalizes that and kudos to Dilbar for being so irrevocably and innocently in love with Jugnu that nowhere does it make you uncomfortable.
Shams and Zubeida’s story is a smooth sail with them doing the regular millennial stuff such as him sending bengan emojis and her sharing sweating emoji in return.
Ah, how innocently Zubeida’s brother narrates her SMS conversation with Shams to her emoji-illiterate abba, “Baaji sharma rahi hai, unhone bengan bheja, ab baaji ke paseenay choot rahe hain.”
But the best of all is the chemistry between Batool and Boss (the inspector). The subtlety in their relationship has an old world charm. You’ll find yourself looking forward to their scenes amidst all the frozen dead bodies, fairness cream sagas, missing people, and garden graveyards.
A word of caution: don’t prepare a nice feast to binge on while you’re bingeing on Churails.
You might not puke your guts out, but your guts will certainly hint toward it multiple times. The bone chilling marital rape, attempted pedophilia, and consequent murder should have come with a trigger warning.
Apart from the gore, the symbolism of dolls used in the beginning of each episode can be considered unnecessary melodrama by some, but I feel it summarizes the entire plot for us.
Women are considered as dolls. Men wish to mold them according to their preference. If they’re not ductile and malleable enough, they end up being broken. Since men are not allowed to play with fake dolls in their childhood – they included a scene about that in the show as well – , they resort to treating the women in their lives as dolls in the guise of “protecting” and “perfecting” them when they grow up.
That’s what happens in those “parties” where all our subplots converge. Men rating women and deciding where fat should be added, where deducted, and how many shades lighter should they be.
The (evil) men in Churails take it upon themselves to perfect and protect women.
That is not entirely different from our patriarchal society, is it?
The number of times Jameel offers to “protect” Sara was nauseating. Every time he said, “I’ve got your back”, I’d be like “yeah, so you can stab it”.
The question is: Did our perfect politician obsessed with perfection stab his perfect wife?
I can’t tell you that or else the churails will kill me, but anyone who’s seen the finale: I don’t think it was love on Jameel’s part, it was obsession for perfection that made him do what he did (or didn’t).
Another question: Did Asim Abbasi stab his story by over convoluting it?
His art of storytelling saved him and so did the mediocrity of our regular Pakistani shows. Churails was definitely a one hundredth up on the behnoi-snatching stories running on our television screens currently. But the whole fairness cream saga was a bit of overkill and then suddenly showing a character, with skewed moral compass, to say no to a fairness cream advert! Hello, Sheila and her jawani wouldn’t give two bulls about the damage caused by asbestos.
Could Churails have been more inclusive in terms of audience?
The explicit language used in Churails, the implied relationships, and freedom to explore sexuality doesn’t sit too well with our aunties and uncles. I can’t imagine watching the web series with my mother. She’d go for her smelling salts in the first twenty minutes.
Does that mean we keep shying away from narratives that dismantle patriarchy?
Nope. We have to start somewhere and I’m glad the feminist discourse is gaining momentum. My only grievance is, that it shouldn’t be restricted to the “pull ke uss paar” audience. The makers will say we struck a balance by taking two characters from SEC A+ and two from SEC C, but who has the most authority amongst our four leads? Surely, it is the damsels from Defence.
They are the brains behind the whole operation while the ghareeb girls hang onto each and every one of their accented words, because they are made to believe that Churails are a family. While Jugnu did stay true to this claim by giving space to Batool and Zubeida in her home and entertaining Dilbar’s blatant crush, Sara finds it easy to discard Sheila after bestowing a huge favour upon her.
Her excuse is, “ab jhoot bardasht nahi hota”, but isn’t that her privilege talking? She is the same person who breaks down in front of her husband and says, “Please help me. I can’t decide anymore”, just because he is more powerful than her. Where is her “jhoot se nafrat” now?
If this show of privilege was intentional then kudos to the makers for keeping it real. But if this is their version of equality then it needs a revision.
What doesn’t need revision is the little exchanges shown between the opposite gender throughout the show. When the Inspector yells “tameeez, tameez se baaat karein”, and Jugnu replies, “Humein tameez sikha kar kya alag qisam ka high milta hai kya tum mardon ko?” You get this immense satisfaction that finally there is a woman on screen who is amplifying your voice.
Then there is Eman Suleman’s entry with the haunting poem, which in its own twisted way highlights everything that needs to change in our society:
Mein tumein tameez sikhaongi
Achi larki banaongi
Rakhogi tum sab ke raaz
Kabhi na uthaogi awaaz
Agar tum meri beti ho..”
In our culture, we have equated tameez with staying silent even on the vilest acts and that needs to change.
So people who are saying, “But Churails is destroying our culture”, need to sit back down. Your culture has already been destroyed by patriarchy and it is internalized misogyny that is making you uneasy. Stories like Churails is trying to fix what’s wrong. It doesn’t pander to the west, as many would like to believe. It uncovers the truth of toxic masculinity, racism, gender-based violence, and abuse of power prevalent very much in Pakistan.
I don’t know if it was intentional, but titles of some of the episodes were attributes that people often attach with women –Tabedaari, Qaboo to name a few – and it is so apt that Churails ends on Taaqat – the title of the tenth and the last episode. If nothing else, Churails will do two things: it will make you uncomfortable and hate nihaari. If you’re up for the challenge, then give it a go!
Churails can be watched on the Zee5 App
Aangan Director returns with Prem Gali written by Faiza Iftikhar, and starring none other than Farhan Saeed!
After doing her Masters in Advertising and Media Management, Rozina Bhutto found herself on the web desk of The Express Tribune. SO NOT what she had planned. According to the seniors, she was lucky to be part of the “exciting times” of the 2013 general elections, but she soon found out, that reporting about Imran Khan’s probable death wasn’t her idea of “exciting”. To make her life less exciting, but equally interesting, she joined an entertainment website as a Subeditor and left it as the Features Editor.
Her next stop was Women’s Own, where she served as the Managing Editor, before finally landing at Limu Studio. It was here that she found her true calling as she dabbled in various arenas of digital content creation. But the writer in her felt ignored, so here she is! Oh, and she also has a diploma in Interior Design and loves anything and everything to do with fashion.