Asim Abbasi and the stellar cast of churails made me laugh, cry, cheer on heroes that deserved to be hailed as such and see aspects of our society that we don't normally see because it's far easier to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses.
In the throes of the controversial Mera Jism Meri Marzi, the constant backlash that the Aurat March received from chauvinistic men and a generally chaotic 2020, rose a behemoth of a show. It is the story of burqa-clad women wielding a hockey stick, ready to shatter the patriarchy, something that shook the misogynists of Pakistan to their core and all I could do is raise a glass to the four amazing actors and the writer who had successfully made a show that resonated so effectively with so many women and men.
Churails, for me, came out of nowhere and the stories it told took my breath away. Seemingly a story of four women in the city of Karachi; a lawyer, a wedding planner, a boxer and a murderer get together and decide to help other women realise that they shouldn’t be settling for the short end of the stick just because society tells a woman to compromise when a man does whatever he wants with minimal consequences. Our society and its systems perpetuate the concept that a subservient, demure role in life is more becoming of a woman and further puts men on top of a social hierarchy that needs to be thrown out ASAP. The show and its writer, Asim Abbasi, gave the reins to four strong women; Sara, Jugnu, Zubaida and Batool to tell a story of women but for every male, female and gender non-binary there is in the world, resulting in an excellent show.
Sarwat Gillani, Yasra Rizi, Meher Bano and Nimra Bucha play the titular roles of the head churails. Sara is a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, dubbed the “perfect wife” by her sleazy politician husband. Jugnu is a wedding planner who is fabulous, fierce, funny and terminally inebriated. She is the glue that holds the group together. Zubaida is a headstrong boxer, who isn’t one to back out of a fight. Batool is the matriarch figure; the murderer whose protective instincts were a typhoon when they came out to play. The four, all wronged by a patriarchal society in one way or another, decide to help other women see the way the men in their lives keep them down. Helming a team of women (and men who don’t abide by the abhorrent social norm of having to control the women around them) the four decide to unmask the unfaithful, abusive and dishonest men in society. With the tagline “mard ko dard ho ga”, they hilariously create an air of uneasiness for the men in the show. This show must have made any chauvinistic, privileged men that watched it squirm.
The first few episodes play out like a procedural show, with a case of the week and overarching storylines for each of the main characters. It isn’t until they get exposed after botching a case due to differences of opinion, when all hell breaks loose. The plot plunges these women into a whirlpool of corrupt politicians, prostitution rings and when one of their own gets taken, we see them all band together and work to expose the masterminds behind the goings-on.
Asim Abbasi and the stellar cast of Churails made me laugh, cry, cheer on heroes that deserved to be hailed as such and see aspects of our society that we don’t normally see because it’s far easier to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses
The show has a premise that may not be entirely rooted in realism, specifically because the main leads represent such a niche group of women that it’s hard to imagine that every woman in the country finds representation in the core-four. Diversity of character comes in the form of the supporting cast, who I wish were fleshed out even more, but it is done well enough to make the characters believable. Where the show shines is in shedding a light on so much more than just proving women’s capabilities to do everything a man can, which it does brilliantly. It normalises the idea that women should have autonomy over their lives and their bodies; it normalises how working women are still adept at taking care of their children and their families; it normalises the inclusion of the transgender community in mainstream society by giving the talented trans-actor Zara Khan an opportunity to play the fantastic Baby Doll; it normalises the existence of the LGBTQ+ community in our country and sheds a light on the challenges that they face, such as a the social challenge of being forced into loveless marriages, which takes a toll on both spouses. The show also takes a gutsy approach to discussing child marriage and the psychological toll it takes on victims of this atrocious crime. Finally, it shows its audience that these women, though they are brave, smart and capable, are not always exemplary. They make mistakes just like men do in our society and they are as human, complex and flawed as anyone else. Churails exposes the people who cheat and abuse their power over the people in their surroundings; these problematic characters just happen to be men (which says a lot about the root of a lot of issues in our society).
Asim Abbasi and the stellar cast of Churails made me laugh, cry, cheer on heroes that deserved to be hailed as such and see aspects of our society that we don’t normally see because it’s far easier to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. Just like the women in the show, the web series itself had to face obstacles in the form of a regulatory body that allows TV channels to run socially problematic shows regularly, but had an issue with a throwaway comment describing a sexual act. The show was banned for a Pakistani audience on the streaming service Zee5. As the famously sharp-witted Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter) once so aptly said, “if you want to make sure that everyone is exposed to something, make an announcement that you’re banning it.” It took all of one day for the churails to rise from their crypt, stronger than ever. I have one word for source material of this calibre in Pakistan: groundbreaking. We need more shows like this that are solid entertainment but also allow us to catch up with the social and human ideals of the developed world.
The writer is a dentist who practices in Lahore.