By: Sameer Anwar
Asim Abbasi’s Churails can be summed up as, “a masterpiece representing one of the most significant milestones to date for Pakistan’s leap into the age of digital media”.
Asim Abbasi, who has both written and directed the show, beautifully crafts a story that drives the conversation forward on a wide range of important and urgent issues through the lens of four Karachiite women. Together these women set up a boutique in disguise – where burqas are symbolic representations of their superwomen capes, in an attempt to emancipate other women from the plagues of male patriarchy and abusive relationships. What follows is the unraveling of dark secrets that change their lives forever.
The freedom to express
Pakistan’s television screenplays have traditionally been delicately nuanced and guarded. Widely acclaimed television series created within the social and cultural confines of acceptability, such as the likes of Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Humsafar, are a delight to watch but are divorced from the reality of an ever-evolving Pakistan. An opportunity to tell stories without any shackles and the need to conform to the strict guidelines of traditional television has given our artists the liberation to immerse into their characters and show their full potential – and Asim fully employs and uses this opportunity!
While Pakistan’s industry has been best-known for its realism in storytelling, Churails demonstrates how to strike the balance between keeping the audience engaged in the story while shedding light on important yet rarely discussed social issues that exist within our society. While many recent Pakistani films have packed an overdose of social issues into two hours, ten episodes seem like the appropriate duration to do justice. Asim undauntingly discusses the depth of institutional issues ranging from sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, human trafficking to the remnants of Pakistan’s “colonial hangover” – all of this while still keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. A feat that would be completely impossible to achieve in our traditional television drama format.
Churails is a brilliant example of how an amazing cast can deliver some of their best performances to date when truly given their artistic freedom. The performances by all actors are award-worthy and far too many to mention. The leads Sara (Sarwat Gilani), Jugnu (Yasra Rizvi), Batool (Nimra Bucha), and Zubaida (Mehar Bano) are absolutely splendid. Sarwat Gilani shows her full prowess as an actor and is able to move the audience with a wide range of emotions that can be deeply felt – a loving mother, a liberated wife, and an empowered entrepreneur. Yasra Rizvi’s feisty fearless unabashed character, Jugnu, is marvelous and redefines the stereotypes the audience may have about Pakistani women. Nimra Bucha plays the character of Batool with a kind of dignified dominance that one can only expect a true veteran of the industry to deliver. Mehar Bano provides a raw vulnerability and relatability as her character is the youngest of the four.
Churails is peppered with cameos from some of the finest and well-known actors from the Pakistani industry. With names like Sarmad Khoosat, Sania Saeed, Adnan Malik, Anoushey Abbasi, Hina Bayat, and even Mahira Khan included in the list of cameos, the curiosity of how they all fit in the world of Churails is natural. And they all do a great job in making the Churails experience more memorable.
Mo Azmi, the director of photography (also co-producer) allows viewers to experience Karachi in its full grit and glory. The simple yet profound frames that he experiments with contribute significantly to helping the audience experience the pace and emotions throughout the ten episodes. Complementing the frames perfectly, the background scores and poetic narrations move the audience along with the story. The dialogues are all too real in an attempt to jolt the viewers to root for the Churails. Asim shows his love and art as he closes each of the arcs ensuring the audience gets closure.
Taha Malik has done a great job in selecting the music of the show as, throughout the show, many popular and some not-so-widely-known songs both from Pakistan and India play in the background and seamlessly blend with the scenes to bring life to the narrative. The title track of the song sung by Zoe Vicaji with lyrics penned by Osman Khalid Butt energizes and reflects the power of the churail within.
A digital success
Churails is catered to an already digitally-obsessed desi audience which represents not just growing segments within the countries but also a large diaspora of Pakistanis and Indians abroad. However, the opportunity that Churails presents is far beyond. Churails is a milestone that demonstrates that with the right funding, a global platform, and perhaps most importantly the appropriate artistic freedom to produce unfettered content, Pakistan can produce shows that would translate well and be relatable for global viewers even outside traditional desi circles. We can imagine a subtitled version of Churails being just as engaging to watch for a non-desi audience as many of the Spanish and Turkish shows that have recently seen a meteoric rise in popularity on global platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The behemoths in the digital media industry (tech company turned media giants such as Netflix) have disrupted the global talent and content markets and changed the rules of engagement. What used to be niche has now broken in the forays of the mainstream. With digital becoming the norm as even the normal television audience has started to rely on platforms like Youtube to catch up to all their television content, Pakistani content creators can no longer afford to waste any more time. Digital is not only the need of the hour but is the undeniable reality. Churails being the first Pakistani web series that is being streamed on a platform that already hosts much local and international content, is technically Pakistan’s official addition to the ever-increasing global market for digital content. And Pakistan has definitely struck gold with it.
As a digital-first company, Galaxy Lollywood understands well that this transition to digital comes with its own set of demanding challenges and Pakistan’s artists should prepare themselves by learning lessons from their global peers. And as the transition towards digital content accelerates globally, we will look back at Asim’s efforts and the outstanding performances by our beloved Churails as one of the most significant steps taken by Pakistan’s industry in that journey. Bow down to Asim and the entire crew.
Sameer Anwar is Galaxy Lollywood’s international digital correspondent.