A poster from Churails.

Flawed, Fearless Women Fight Patriarchy in Pakistani Show Churails

The series from Pakistan is streaming on Zee5.

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Review: Flawed, Fearless Women Take on Patriarchy in ‘Churails’

One of the best shows to have dropped recently is the Pakistani web series Churails, directed by Asim Abbasi and streaming on Zee5. Spanning over ten episodes, the show is a saga of a team of women who take upon themselves to teach men the lesson of their lives. With terrific performances, slick cinematography by Mo Azmi and a witty take on the rules laid down by patriarchy, the show, barring a few disappointments, achieves a lot in its entirety.


The Karachi Four

Their worlds might not meet in the wildest of dreams but what connects the ‘Karachi Four’ - Batool, Sara, Jugnu and Zubeida - is their trauma. Batool is a survivor of marital rape. Married off at a young age to someone much older, she had to face the cane every time her husband wasn’t ‘satisfied’ or the wrath of her in-laws when they discovered to their utmost horror that the starched white sheet didn’t have any proof of the bride’s ‘purity’. In a bid to save her daughter from being subjected to the same violence, Batool takes a decision that lands her behind bars for 20 odd years.

Zubeida’s family has one goal in life - to get the daughter married off as soon as possible. In a world where slaps and shoes become means of controlling a woman, Zubeida emerges as a rebel who will do anything to give wings to her dreams of becoming a boxer.

Sara and Jugnu are the privileged lot. The men in their families boast of foreign degrees, flaunt their liberal mindsets but when the daughters or partners express their desires of achieving greater heights they feel threatened and cornered. In the beginning, we see Sara as the ‘perfect trophy wife’ of a politician. She looks after her three kids, manages the household, attends parties that are profitable for her husband and defends her miyaan against an allegation of harassment by choosing to turn a deaf ear to the woman who has put everything at stake to come out with the truth.

Jugnu, on the other hand, has taken recourse to alcohol after her personal and professional life suffered setbacks thanks to her father and her uncle. Hell broke loose for the ambitious wedding planner when she decided to marry an African-American, earning the apathy of her Harvard-educated uncle, for whom colour of the skin is directly proportional to fame and success.

One incident comes as a storm for these women wallowing in self-doubt and creates a relationship that transgresses the shallow divides created by society.

A still from Churails.
A still from Churails.

Their fights

Batool, Sara, Jugnu and Zubeida start a private detective agency for the jilted housewives of Karachi. They operate with the tagline - Mard Ko Dard Hoga - and go around teaching a lesson to the abusive and cheating husbands. The team that the four form comprise of women who have been labelled as ‘outcasts’ - former convicts, a transgender, a sex worker etc. Their facade is a boutique store, Halaal Designs, and burqas become their capes. The agency began by catering to those who ensured an unhindered cash flow - a reference to the mindsets of men, who think they can get the licence to abuse and cheat on their partners by showering the latter with expensive silks and jewellery.

The series is deft enough to point out that the women, too, are anything but innocent. By reiterating that their husbands have been trapped by gold-diggers it’s clear that they subscribe to the same conservative notion.

Things slowly take a different and dangerous turn when the ‘Churails’ try to unravel a larger conspiracy that is at play in Karachi, in the process digging out uncomfortable truths hiding in their own families. Politicians, policemen, industrialists - everyone is connected to a racket that has engulfed young women of the town. Added to that is the deep-seated disgust for homosexuals, transgenders, sex workers and others who are exploited by the very society that delivers long monologues about being the best version of ourselves. In trying to fight these very biases, the team realises that making charts and writing pages about ways to purge the system seems achievable, it’s the bloodbath and a battle with one’s own faith and morals that is actually in store out there.

A still from Churails.
A still from Churails.

Anything but a Fairytale

From Sleeping Beauty to Beauty and the Beast, Churails lays bare the nauseating takeaways fairy tales are cloaked in. Sleeping Beauty waited and waited till a prince rescued her by kissing without consent. This saviour complex is sprinkled throughout the series. When Sara voices her wish to resume her work, her husband Jameel exclaims, “Main hoon na?” To which Sara replies, “Aaj kal main thodi kum hoon (There is less of me these days)”. He tries to paralyse her into submission every time she wants to take a decision.

However, Asim Abbasi’s masterstroke comes in the guise of animal masks and the flesh trade. “From time immemorial, it’s a woman’s job to attract”, proclaims a man at a party while stripping a woman of her dignity publicly. He is the ‘beast’ who revels in the warped notion that he has been tasked to turn 'imperfect' women into perfect princesses.

Flawed, Fearless Women Fight Patriarchy in Pakistani Show Churails

In their quest to expose the crime, the ‘Churails’ team also stumbles upon the shady side of the showbiz industry and how it lures women aspiring to become stars one day only to have their dreams crushed. But these daredevils are not to be tamed so easily. They have armed themselves with the courage and confidence gathered from years of being mistreated.

Strength in being Flawed

The biggest strength of the series is in depicting these women to be flawed. In a brilliant scene, Jugnu accepts that her hollow sense of privilege prevents her from accepting a lifestyle and befriending people who do not belong to the same circle she hobnobs in. Through the 10 episodes, we see her battle her demons and emerge more understanding and empathetic.

Flawed, Fearless Women Fight Patriarchy in Pakistani Show Churails

Sara, on the other hand, is consumed by her impulsiveness. When one wrong step almost leads to a team member losing her life it is then that she reflects upon her decisions and accepts that she was selfish enough. Where films such as Mardaani get the whole idea of strong women fighting the system wrong, Churails scores in showing us that it is indeed the flaws that make the women fearless.


All About The Performances

Where the smart storytelling falters and succumbs to being a little preachy, the performances more than make up for it. The characters that’s richly layered is that of Jugnu. She starts out as being somewhat flippant, and Yasra Rizwi plays her with effortless charm. But as the series gains momentum, Jung becomes the voice of reason. She goes on to overcome her past demons and extends unconditional support to Batool, who Jugnu has nicknamed Phoolan.

Batool, slayed by Nimra Bucha, is the Badi Amma with a mercurial temper. She is foul-mouthed, always ready to pack punches and hesitates in exhibiting her softer side. Years in prison and a violent childhood has worn her down but we see her bouncing back when life gives a second chance.

Sarwat Gilani Mirza is stunning as Sara. She enjoys her lavish lifestyle but makes sure to bring up her kids with values. “There’s no harm if a boy likes dolls”, an otherwise quiet Sara tells her mother-in-law, rising above petty discriminations. Mehar Bano as Zubeida is also impressive. She is sweet and tough. Zubeida can go to lengths for her new family, and towards the end she proves what she stands for.

“The problem with women is they think they deserve more” - Jugnu’s uncle smirks upon discovering about their agency. The ‘Churails’ look him and the other men in the eye, wield their guns and show the world that they indeed deserve the best.

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