The trailer of the Pakistani web series Churails gave us the vibe of an all-women vigilante saga which has a feministic outlook. But like almost all quality web series trailers, this one was also a deceptive one. The 10 episode web series is a shapeshifter that generates animosity towards gender bias and deep-rooted patriarchy through an intricate screenplay. While the core agenda remained the same, the thrill the series offered shifted from one tone to another without making us lose interest in the plot.
Sara and Jugnu are close friends who belonged to high profile families. They both had a successful professional life. But the responsibilities of being a mother made Sara quit her lawyer career and Jugnu’s event management company had to shut down after failing to please the clients. At one point, when Sara finds out that her husband Jamil used to have affairs with other women she felt cheated and along with Jugnu, she planned to create an organization named Churails that will help other women who also had to face such situation. Jugnu’s maid and an ex-convict Batool and a girl Batool knew from the neighborhood, Zubaida also joined the team and the series is basically about where this organization takes these characters in the long run.
Spoiler Alert! What you see in the trailer of the show is merely one-third of the show, so this review may expose details about the rest. So, in the initial bits, we are getting familiarized with the characters and their world. Sara is a housewife who seemingly has all the comfort and a caring husband. Jugnu is a short-tempered alcoholic with a clumsy equation with her family. Batool killed her husband when he did something nasty and was inside the jail for almost 20 years. Zubaida is that caged young one who wanted to do boxing, flirt with boys and all those things but couldn’t do any of that because of her orthodox family. And when Churails are formed comprising of many women who also wanted to break free from a male-dominated setup, we get to see a lot of fast-paced operations of the gang that shows the various insecurities and ignorance of a lot of women.
The story here has three phases. One is the enthusiastic build-up and formation of Churails. The second one is the conflicted space of Churails where they no longer know how to move forward after something extremely unforgivable happens as a result of their “detective” service. And the third phase is pretty much a Paatal Lok scenario where this small gang of women has to go against a nexus that was extremely powerful. What was interesting about the content was the way it shifted between these three phases in a blended way. You don’t really get that feeling that they are desperately extending the story to make it longer. And the demons in the story have this metaphorical aspect to them which works effectively when you look at this as that take against patriarchy.
The space the creators get for character building is one of the major advantages of the series format. And I must say Churails have used that beautifully. They are not trying to create a man versus woman war on screen. You do have sensible men supporting these women and they are also expressing their disagreement when some plans don’t work for them. The antagonists in the story are attributed to the mask of animals. Even though it might look like a crazy theme of a posh party, you can actually read it in multiple ways. These are people who are considered normal, understanding and perfect in the society. Asim Abbasi has creatively formed villains who are advocates of the old school mentality. Towards the end, you may well be able to guess that big twist in the tale, but the human element in that along with the culmination of a lot of subplots happening at that moment elevates it to an emotionally satisfying level.
Asim Abbasi is not trying to demonize all men by creating a strict female narrative. Even the women are sometimes in the problematic zone. The brutal murder that happens, which forces the group to stop their operation sort of exposes the problematic mindset of some of our protagonists due to the harsh realities they faced in life. Jugnu acknowledges her bad behavior and Jamil is presented as a husband who apologizes and supports his wife. Ifthikar is perhaps the only character that is blatantly sexist and racist here and there is a sense of realness in his depiction too. Asim succeeds in establishing these characters. In his craft, he uses the back and forth narrative to misguide our predictions and to an extent, it does help the viewer in staying curious. Women expressing their anger, opinion, sexuality, etc are shown in a very blended way in the series using the pool of characters. The visual grammar varying from the color palette to aspect ratio does communicate the emotional state of the scene or characters effectively. The editing is on the aggressive side, but at times I felt their effort to not spoon-feed the viewer caused some clarity issues. The songs they have used are really apt and I loved the new interpretations of some of my favorite Amit Trivedi tracks.
The performance side of the series is extremely solid. Sarwat Gilani as Sara portrays the role of the vulnerable confused leader neatly. Yasra Rizvi shines as the irreverent Jugnu Choudhry who is hiding a dark past under the chilled out alcoholic we see on screen. Mehar Bano as the angry and feisty Zubaida was impressive. My personal favorite was the internalized performance of Nimra Bucha as Batool. Batool is easily the most disturbing character in the whole series and Bucha was able to do justice to that role. Omair Rana as Jamil was extremely convincing. The actor who played the role of Shams was really memorable.
When you present an idea like an all-women gang doing something against the anti-women element in the society, there is a high possibility of it being a total one-sided story where all the men will be monsters and all the women will be the epitome of sacrifices. Asim Abbasi’s success in Churails is that he hasn’t gone on that path. Instead of making it a battle of the sexes, he makes sure that it always feels like a battle of perception. And it is not like they are pressing the oppression faced by women in every other frame. Even a sexist person would agree to the fact that the thriller element in the series is worth viewing.
The 10 episode web series is a shapeshifter that generates animosity towards gender bias and deep-rooted patriarchy through an intricate screenplay.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended