For someone who hasn’t been around this past year, the first trailer of Churails that spread like wildfire on social media was a pleasant eye-opener to the progress of Pakistani entertainment.
It was also very apparent that it’s going to take us decades to reach a point where something like this could air on television, but thankfully, out beyond the laws of censorship exist digital platforms that let people tell stories that are raw, real and harsh.
Created by Asim Abbasi, Churails had big shoes to fill considering he made Cake (2018), perhaps one of the finest cinematic works to come out of the country, but this is poles apart. It is a brilliant example of crafting a thriller sans cliffhanger.
The story, as the poster suggests, revolves around a foursome that forms the core of a group that promises ‘Mard ko dard hoga’ and that’s exactly what they deliver.
Sara, played by Sarwat Gilani, is the trophy wife who has it all — perfect husband, house, kids, wardrobe and tons of money. Too bad that doesn’t make her happy. She wants something more — to be herself.
Jugnu, played by Yasra Rizvi, is a high-profile event planner. She’s rich, single and prefers to keep it that way. She's got one eye on the latest Birkin and the other on every fine detail of the events she plans until one mishap messes it all.
Nimra Bucha plays Batool, a middle-aged woman who has spent 20 years in jail for committing murder. She’s now out and in search of purpose.
The last of the core troupe is Zubaida, played by Mehar Bano, the youngest of the clan who is seeking independence from the strict rules of her traditional family. When she’s not boxing, all she wants is to flirt with her boyfriend like any young girl.
Things get interesting and gritty when these four get together and set up an agency called Churails to root out infidelity. Behind the doors of a fashion boutique named Halal Designs, these four motivate a group to join them, from members of the LGBTQ+ community to hackers and ex-convicts who’ve finished serving time for various crimes.
They take on cases from suspicious wives and begin making tons of money. All is well until things go south and to know more, you’ll have to subscribe to Zee5 and watch Churails.
Some context before I venture into the storytelling and cinematography: Churails has led to tons of debate on social media about patriotism and supporting Pakistani content hosted on an Indian digital platform.
Watch Churails for the art and not for the politics. Also, when we watch it and support our artists, they get work globally and we get more content. Win-win, right?
So, let’s dig into the other dynamics now.
Churails' story is unseen and new in this part of the world. Gripping, interesting and thrilling — it glues your eyes to the screen. So much so that when I switched it off and went to sleep after the fourth episode at 2a.m., my 56-year-old mother continued and apparently watched it all the same night.
Although some parts of the storyline seem exaggerated — some unjustifiable, too — one can’t say those incidents are unreal or aren’t happening around the world. The plot shows people at their physical and emotional worst; it shows the exploitation, lust and thirst in society.
Somebody asked on a popular women's Facebook group if girls are auctioned like that at parties in Karachi in real life and the responses were predictable, even for someone who hasn’t been to Karachi in a decade. There’s been a long debate on whether what happened with the homosexual husband was right and it’s going to be an endless debate. I personally thought that was a bit much, but hey, it’s the writer’s choice.
What’s most interesting about the story is that it looks at gender inequality from various perspectives and questions, what normalises the violation of a woman in a man's eyes? The answer is in a scene where a child touches a woman inappropriately at a supermarket. It may be hard to believe, but Churails shows some of the harshest truths in our society.
Unlike anything we have seen on local television in the recent past, Churails looks at situations from a lens that shows shades of grey and that’s exactly where it shines. Questions like whether the man whose harassment led to a woman's suicide is any less a murderer? Is truth-telling a virtue when one reveals the sexual orientation of a married man to his wife with adult offspring?
Churails is a winner because it brings these questions to our daily conversations and that in itself is half the purpose achieved.
A perfect ensemble
It’s very hard to pinpoint who did a better job acting-wise. Very rarely does everyone in an ensemble cast perform to perfection, but this was very much the case in Churails. I can’t pick who was more convincing — Sarwat as the frustrated trophy wife, Yasra Rizvi as the elite event planner or Nimra Bucha as the murderer.
Nimra Bucha deserves endless praise. From her impromptu line "main hazir hoon baji" to her creepy looks, she adds the thrill in Churails. Mehar Bano was brilliant and convincing and it makes me wonder how any work that’s offered to these actors afterwards will do justice to what they have done here.
Even the supporting cast made its mark. Sarmad Khoosat is brilliant before he becomes ni****. Sania Saeed steals the show. Mahira Khan is a treat for the eyes in the few seconds she appears. And when everyone performs well, we know the credit goes to the director. Asim Abbasi, take a bow.
Churails is definitely a breath of fresh air in Pakistan, but also in India, and a great reminder of why it’s so important to exchange arts across the border. Here’s hoping there’s more to see.