CHURAILS: Where Sassy Witches Dare

Subah ki kirnon ko roke jo salaakhein hain kahaan…
Jo khayalon pe pehre daale.. Woh aankhein hain kahaan…
Par khulne ki deri hain.. Parinde udd ke jhoomenge…
Aasman aasman aasman…..

It is fascinating how filmmaker Asim Abbasi‘s new ten part Pakistani web series on Zee5 called Churails borrows seamlessly from Amitabh Bhattacharya’s poetry to string together a montage of courage for a group of fearless women in Karachi; each of whom have lost so much in a journey to discover treacherous personal truths, unearth the ugliest secrets of their existence; but have eventually found peace with themselves. It is the common annhilating pain that has worked like a invincible bond between them to stand for each other, and give them the courage to fight for themselves and for a world of other suffering women around them brutalized systemically by a glitteringly perfect world of class, aristocracy and elegance.

It is also fascinating how Abbasi and his team take all the time to set up an immersive environment that initially looks like a story of a set of wronged women beaten up by seemingly common domestic issues like a cheating partner or orthodox parents; but gradually goes into darker and murkier realms of ugly corporate rackets, high class escort business, dangerous animal clubs, menacing familial ties, and unimaginable brutalities of abortion, adoption, prostitution and killings, all wrapped behind the grandeur of most elegant facades of our society. Yes, it may get you restless in the first episode, and may be even in the second, but hang in there with Abbasi and his gang of girls. Bigger and better things only unfold with time.

Asim Abbasi is not interested in playing by the conventional rules of the game and toe the line of glossy superficial web series. With Cake, we have already seen him challenge the shady contours of seemingly happy families. With Churails, he takes it many steps further. Over the course of ten episodes, it all comes together through the entangled complicated lives of a group of four women – Sara (Sarwat Gilani), who is lawyer by profession but just a trophy housewife now of a high class politician who has many other women in his life; Jugnu (Yasra Rizwi), Sara’s best buddy who has had a failed event management business after her marriage with a Black man ended in a divorce; Batool (Nimra Bucha), who has served a twenty year sentence on account of killing her own husband and is now looking for her estranged daughter when she ends up being a house help at Jugnu’s; and Zubaida (Mehar Bano) who wants to be a boxer but is outcast by her highly orthodox family and finds shelter with Batool with nowhere else to go. They are as disparate as they can be, but their experiences of life bring them together at a juncture where they find each other as the best supports to lean in. Together they decide to form an organization that calls itself Churails, recruit many other who identify with the cause, and start providing their vigilante services under the garb of a high class spic and span burkini store. The choice of the frontline business is also a metaphor here because eventually even the vigilante service also turns out to be just a facade that leads to many more messier mutilating stories, and then the burkinis become as much a mask for these women, whom the world sees as Churails, to unmask the way more ferocious beasts around them who indulge in the ugly business of beauty and even savor mementos of their preys as trophies of their kills.

Churails also succeeds because even though the otherwise taut writing starts dripping its juice in a place or two, the multi threaded and the multi timeline screenplay smartly covers up the rough edges of writing. The narrative also weaves in a natural gaze on multiple societal taboos around homosexuality, closeted lives, racism, teen pregnancy, relationships across age or class gaps, without making a forced woke commentary about any of them. The editing remains sharp, the cinematography along with the well coordinated production design helps freezing focus on some amazing frames through out the run time of the show, and each intentional easter egg embedded in the narrative finds a nice little closure along the way somewhere towards the end. A special mention of the musical score that adds the extra sass to the proceedings throughout the show.

The performances from entire cast remains brilliant through and through, especially the Churails. Sarwat Gilani and Yasra Rizwi particularly shine, and rightfully so as the leaders of this group of kick-ass women. It is not easy to hold the attention span of the viewer for a ten hour long haul, especially when the history of writing strong feminist narratives speerheaded by a gang of super cool women has mostly gone south for the subcontinent. In order to deliver the punch, most of these films or series have gone overboard and have laced themselves with the same cliches that they want to challenge. Churails emerges as a refreshing exception from that world of mediocrity. A smart move here is that it assembles the stories of women from such varied backgrounds with such diverse backstories that the context automatically binds to stay rooted by itself. It also borrows very smartly from the successful predecessors like Big Little Lies, Eyes Wide Shut or The Secret in their Eyes, and pays a rich homage to Bollywood right from Mard ko dard hoga, to Aliya Butt, to Azaadiyan and lot more; and wonderfully adapts them to the local milieu to remain authentic at all times. Infact, it then goes a step further and subverts the context of the typical vigilante narrative to expose how it doesn’t often matter where these women (or men) are coming from. The conditioning usually is equally ugly across the societal layers, the suffering at times can even be self inflicting, and one does need the clout of the money, power and privilege to navigate through the obnoxious dirt each one is living in, manipulate the system, and give it back as harshly through the same weapons of class, poise and control.

Overall, because everything comes together so well under Abbasi’s keen eyes, Churails turns up to be the perfectly spiced, slowly cooked, and attractively garnished delicacy that also leaves behind a rich aftertaste. All this, when the breeding ground for this recipe was obnoxiously foul & filthy, and the ingredients were subjected to adverse conditions of patriarchy, sexism and brutality. It only takes the special power of witchcraft and unbound courage to cut through the chains of such demonizing horror to emerge victorious and reinstate a more harmonizing balance! A big shout out to Asim Abbasi and his gang of Churails!

Churails is now playing on Zee5 and demands ten hours of our time.

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Copyright ©2020 Jayashree Chakravarti.This article cannot be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL can be used instead.

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