Muhammad Asad Ullah
A series in real sense, with extra-ordinaire writing, direction and acting coming out of Pakistan. Churails (meaning witches) is the first Pakistani series that has been especially commissioned by an Indian streaming platform, ZEE5, in this case. ZEE5 brings it to its platform under its popular Zindagi brand. Created by Pakistani-British writer-director Asim Abbasi, Churails is an unapologetic bold, unabashed story of a bunch of gutty women vigilantes who take it upon themselves to teach abusive men — and through them, a deeply patriarchal society — a lesson they wouldn’t forget in a hurry. The series is set in the backdrop of Karachi.
Sometimes fantastical, and sometimes a little too real in its statement, the show tackles a wide range of women’s issues — touching upon domestic violence, forced and child marriages, abortions, the feminine beauty complex, racism, and more — with a plot that’s fun and irrational but true at the same time.
The show follows the lives of four women: Sara (Sarwat Gilani), a trophy wife of a politico who realises her marriage is a lie. Jugnu (Yasra Rizvi), is an alcoholic and ‘badnaam’ (disreputable) socialite whose wedding planning career comes crashing down with a glitzy chandelier. Zubaida (Mehar Bano) is a girl from an uber conservative family, who dares to dream to become a boxer and gets involved with a guy where even looking at one is considered prohibited and Batool (Nimra Bucha) a murderer who has just come out of her 20-year imprisonment for killing her abusing husband with a hot iron. Four ‘Churails’ but one story — perfectly intertwined with the accounts of other characters but never really missing the plot of its own; seamlessly pacing with an intriguing background score and music — each episode better than the last.
In the first episode, mostly for the sake of plot, but also because of the various abusive men in their lives, the four are brought together by the writers of the show. Sara is a traditional happy go-lucky wife hosts smashing dinner parties, warding off inquisitive mediapersons whilst looking comely while doing so. Her veneer cracks when she stumbles upon hints of his husband, Jameel’s disloyalties. But instead of taking the stereotypical damsel in distress route, she banishes him to the guest bedroom forever, confronts him, and blackmails him into giving her property, on which she sets up ‘Halal Designs’ an undercover detective agency guised as a burkha boutique; an unlikely adventure — coming together with Jugnu, Zainab and Batool — a business through which they avenge ‘wronged women’ — the limited definition of which is laid out by Sara — women with cheating husbands.
And then they’re joined by nine new like-minded bunch, two devoted male allies and seven supporting stock characters, all driven by appeal of money, but fuelled for bringing up a change in the society. In a blink, one case after another, without really consciously thinking about it, the Churails ends up snowballing into a mini feminist movement that draws attention of many, especially men — forcing their closure.
For the first few episodes, it’s all Ocean’s Eight, daring and style for the breaking barriers avengers. Their facade is a boutique store. The confession-booth setup to conceal their identities even has a strategic hole for them to hold the hands of nervous clients who arrive with cash and difficult details. By the third episode, it starts to dawn upon both the characters and the viewers that it’s never as simple as becoming burqa-clad vigilantes in South Asia – or anywhere for that matter. Cops, politicians and mobs crash the party. By the fifth episode, the honeymoon phase is over. By the seventh, a larger conspiracy comes to light, and the story zooms out to reveal their little planet in a big universe.
The narrative takes stunning twists and turns in the lead-up to the finale, uncloaking disruptive secrets and a monumental scam in the process.
For all the actors: lead, supporting or the ones making the cameos, it’s a crisp, quirky and bold performance and it’s a celebration of brilliant Pakistani filmmakers and writers and their expression.
But to recognise how unique Churails is, it’s essential to understand a recent trend in Hindi cinema. Where recently released Bulbbul, produced by Anushka Sharma, used a gothic period-horror tale to disguise feminist narrative of wronged women. Churails goes a step further. You cannot box Churails as a story of women empowerment or feminism, but its a bold statement — that women are capable of anything, they’re unstoppable, irresistible, powerful and they can run the world on their terms because they’re the ‘Queens of the Godamn jungle!’
Yasra Rizvi, Nimra Bucha, Sarwat Gillani and Mehar Bano defines the acting prowess at its best. And Asim Abbasi outdoing himself as a director after Cake (2018), everyone hitting the notch. Similarly, Director of Photography, Mo Azmi — who is also a co-producer — gives fabulous frames, with bright colour palettes and frame compositions. Churail Churail, teri kahaani khatam (Witches! Your’re done now!) — The title track of series is catchy, jazzy and quirky, sung by Zoe Viccaji and Taha Malik and lyrics by Osman Khalid Butt.
Yasra Rizvi is a delight to watch, her movement from theatre to television to series is so evident with the finesse of character adaption and the way she moves on the camera. She’s sassy, spunky and spirited — free spirited, nothing redundant and she’s got the best lines to spout, and she does it wonderfully as well. Nimra Bucha is mesmeric and magnetising. Her eyes shoot daggers with the capacity to kill and so is Mehar Bano’s. Zainab’s a tomboy with a feminine approach that many girls could relate to, and Mehar Bano portrays very well in detail, especially in a sequence where she knocks out her kidnapper in a red dress. It won’t be erroneous to say that Sarwat Gillani is one helluva actress and she has been so underrated. With Churails she caterwauls what a hoopla of talent, emotions and expressions she is!
The show is a fitting reminder of the need to promote exchange of arts and culture across India and Pakistan.
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