This web series written and directed by Asim Abbasi tells the story of four women who have joined together in a mission to save the world from evil men. But it’s not just that. There is so much more to Churails than the obvious motifs that excite the left and outrage the right in Pakistan. There is humor and compassion, diversity and acceptance – but it also raises some curious questions around our own ethics and morality. What would be okay for us? And when we align towards a gender, do we paint them all as angels?
While the plot looks great and intriguing on paper, there are obvious problems in the storytelling that we see in the first episode. The motifs aren’t used as effectively and many important details are given in mere sentences whereas a lot of mundane details are over-stylized and over-emphasized.
For example, Sara (played by Sarwat Gilani) is supposed to be a qualified lawyer. But we see more of her urbane elite lifestyle instead of her own connection with her profession, save a book or two of law that she brushes out of her old storage. Yasra Rizvi plays Jugnu, a wedding planner who has had ‘marital issues’ so she let her career slip. What were these marital issues? Why weren’t they the focus instead of the weddings she was planning?
Mainly because Churails sets out to be more about talking about the stuff Pakistani dramas aren’t talking about: alcohol, drugs, explicit language that the Pakistani mainstream tv shows cannot show.
However as the story grows, there’s more to the plot than just the provocative elements: there’s subtext and a layered emotionality that comes through as different characters step into one mess after the other. Churails is as messy as it gets, it’s as messy as life itself.
Perhaps this is the weakest episode out of them all – as the series progresses, the story gains strength but the first episode just seems to be ticking the aforementioned boxes to invite you in to watch – even though it really doesn’t need to. It tries to hard when all it needs to do is follow the rhythm of what it was initially setting out to do. It plays into too many clichés and offers little substance.
Sara (Sarwat Gilani) and Jugnu (Yasra Rizvi) are upper-class Karachiite women, whereas Batool (Nimra Bucha) and Zubaida (Mehar Bano) are from the lower class of the city. They meet in strange circumstances but form an unlikely alliance that is borne out of their respective circumstances.
Churails’ first episode relies far too much on shock value and wants too much to be a provocateur than a show that ought to have gone down in posterity, as it is one of the most talked-about original series coming out of Pakistan. But it often felt like it was checking boxes to depict or speak about oppression in Pakistan: the oppressive father, the frustrated housewife, the cheating husband.
While they’re all clear and well-known realities, the usage of these motifs in Churails plays out like a New York Times op-ed column designed to shock or appease the white saviours.
It’s not all a loss though. Nimra Bucha and Yasra Rizvi deliver some stellar punchlines and in a scene where Sarwat Gilani quite literally slaps herself out of the suburban dream she was in, are riveting.
This episode starts in a much stronger way and the script is far tighter than the first one. While the first episode wobbled in trying to achieve too much too soon, the second episode’s story stays focused on the emotional investment you have begun to have in the characters. This episode creates a strong base for building up the plot it needs to talk about: Zubaida’s struggle with her family.
Zubaida wanted to be a boxer but her father did not let her become one. So while she leaves home to become a ‘Churail’, she still wants to help out her family but her family wants to trick her into marrying someone they picked out of a lineup.
The story is at its best when you feel its heart and not its lesson: sometimes you have to choose the family you want to be with. And sometimes they will hurt you too – but that’s life and you gotta deal. This is where you truly see the fun and the humanity of the Churails and you understand the point that they’re trying to make.
You see them as a group of flawed humans making stupid decisions, bungling their way into situations instead of any kind of saviors at all. The tone aligns itself as a more humane in the second episode as compared to the first. There are some excellent performances all around and it will be monumentally unfair to ignore just how good everyone has performed in this series.
Would you do something wrong to achieve something right? That’s the question Episode 03 asks as one of their own Churails ends up in a mess. Sara comes at crossroads about her own morality and ethics and we finally see her ‘lawyer’ side, even if it was for a little bit.
There is humor and empathy in this episode in portions that other episodes missed. While the others seemed to be driving home some ‘lessons’ aggressively, this one plays around with the moral gray areas of being human.
Sarwat Gilani and Yasra Rizvi shine in their roles and Asim’s writing is the strongest here. Instead of pandering, Asim attempts to tell a tale that’s as real as it can possibly be. Sometimes, it’s so real it makes you squirm in your seat and make you wish it wasn’t so. But he doesn’t hold back and allows the punches to roll.
Batool’s story unravels in Episode 04 and we see her lose and find a connection from her past. Batool had murdered her husband and had spent time in jail. Nimra Bucha’s excellent performance as Batool will have you riveted even though her well-coiffed hair will seem unsettling at odd moments. Bucha brings darkness and humanity in her character and keeps her tone and behavior rigid enough for you to be curious. Her outbursts ask an all-too-important question: is the fight for rights really as intersectional as people claim it is?
This episode will also be an uncomfortable watch for many conservative factions in the Pakistani diaspora but it also touches upon a reality the mainstream doesn’t really speak about and/or heavily censors. There are passing remarks on the subject of alternative sexuality in other mainstream films in Pakistan but Asim takes the subject head-on and makes it as human as he possibly can. And because he has added a layer of dramatic and over-the-top edge to his characters, the episode goes darker than all that you have seen in the series so far.
To Be Continued