Digital Review: ‘Churails’ (ZEE5)

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When ‘Cake’ released in 2018, it was hard to imagine Asim Abbasi would return with a show like ‘Churails’ – loud, gory and assertive. It was also hard to imagine that the star cast of women we usually see being victimized on our TV screens would finally play characters of substance. And a Pakistani show releasing on an Indian platform? Nearly impossible. Yet somehow the stars have aligned, and ‘Churails’, starring Sarwat Gilani, Nimra Bucha, Yasra Rizvi and Mehar Bano is currently streaming on ZEE5.

Tired of being the perfect wife to her cheating husband, Sara (Gilani) teams up with disgraced socialite Jugnu (Rizvi), husband-murderer Batool (Bucha) and rebellious Zubeida (Bano) to form a vigilante group dedicated to helping women wronged by the patriarchal society of Karachi. As their team and popularity grows, the cases become more and more complicated. Soon, the women realize they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

Much has been written about the feminism of ‘Churails’, so I will be brief. Abbasi understands that what ‘femvertising’ glorifies as “strength” is actually the rage of women who have simply been pushed to the brink. That words like “empowerment” are just a guise to sell equality as if it is an honor to strive for instead of a basic right. That true feminism is not about giving them courage to battle, it is about finally cutting them a break from the constant fight. As a result, the show doesn’t feel like a product, but a genuine commentary on the politics of a prevalent issue.

Beyond feminism, there is the respectful depiction of the LGBTQ+ characters — an unfortunate anomaly in South Asian media that ‘Churails’ does effortlessly. Abbasi provides no judgement or justification for their existence, going out of his way to ensure they are not othered or defined by their gender and sexuality. More importantly, he forces the audience to confront the disproportionate punishment the community receives for something as gentle and personal as love.

Where he spares no judgement though, is in showing the willful ignorance of the uber-rich; the sexism, racism, and classism they peddle as intellectual superiority. There is nothing subtle about ‘Churails’, especially not the implication that the most powerful thrive on the plight of those beneath them. In the doom and gloom of Karachi, all hope lies in the rare moment of introspection of the city’s elite.

It is not easy to adequately describe the chaos that is Karachi, but Abbasi has come closer than any filmmaker before him. How, like Sheila, it hypnotizes you with a sea of hope, just to nonchalantly consume you. It can be a ruthless hellfire where best intentions are the first to die by the hands of apathy, privilege, and ignorance. But, as Zubaida learns, it can also be where all your dreams miraculously come true, even after everything has been taken away. The citizens call Karachi ‘resilient’, but the only resiliency there is in the population, who is stubbornly in love with the impetuous city. As Jugnu perfectly demonstrates, one doesn’t merely live in Karachi, they become it. ‘Churails’ embodies the city it is based in, from the beautiful views, the fixation on food, to the unpredictable journey of the narrative.

Despite all the important issues the show tackles, ‘Churails’ never feels tedious. In fact, the intrigue and humour remain throughout, even as the show becomes darker. A large part of that is the ensemble cast, including the special appearances, who all play characters that are contrary to the audience’s expectations. Mahira Khan as a gun supplier, Sarmad Khoosat as a tragic lover or Sania Saeed as… an extremely thorough nihari cook, are incredibly memorable. But what the audience stays committed to are the stories of the Churails, whether they surrender to the hardships or persevere. Anything can happen in Karachi, and anything can happen in ‘Churails’.

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