‘Churails’: A Relentlessly Surprising Thriller Clad In Woke Tropes
Churails, written and directed by Asim Abbasi, the critically acclaimed director of Cake, follows the story of four Karachi based women who along with their associates — ranging from lesbians to hookers — start a secret detective agency called Churails with the tagline “mard ko dard hoga”. Sara played by the beautiful Sarwat Gilani, is the leader of these misfit vengeful women as well as a trophy wife whose husband cheated on her. Jugnu (Yasra Rizwi) plays her best friend and a drunk divorcee with a penchant for swearing. Batool (Nimra Bucha) is an ex-convict who was hired as a house help by Jugnu but ends up becoming one of the founders. And lastly, Zubaida played by the ever young Meher Bano is an aspiring boxer betrayed by her own family and rescued by Batool, thus becoming a part of the gang
On the face of it, Churails walks on the same track as Oceans 8. Though the first episode does remind you a lot of Big Little Lies — what with everyone getting investigated for some alleged crime. But the show is more like the latter than the former. The first three episodes are all fun and games. You’ll see the setting up of the secretive agency under the facade of a boutique for burqas. They give you the burqa clad patriarchy smashing female vigilantes carrying out justice for the wronged woman that you were promised in the trailer for the show. But up till now Churails operates more like a business with very little moral standing. It’s simple, men cheat and women take revenge. However, this all changes by the end of episode 4. And from then on, Churails is a completely different and a better show.
It is a layered cake and the “feminist” part of it is just the icing. It’ll be wrong to call the show the perfect feminist or female empowerment show, because it’s not. It’s a very satisfying thriller that uses woke tropes to address prevailing social issues in our society. What starts out as a fun female vigilante show slowly reveals itself as a much more complexity laden and character driven show. The women in the show are not perfect. They’re flawed characters who time and again realise that perhaps they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Other times they’re made to question their ways and the moral complexities of the world they’ve created start to emerge. They exert power and influence where they can -because they can- and they stop to think sometimes because what if the cheating husband is actually gay.
All these small narratives that keep on deconstructing themselves are exactly what make Churails unique. Churails as a show realises that it can’t afford to have feminism as a plot twist, but instead it needs to use those ideas and project them on a bigger story.
In a women-centric show male characters usually don’t get the due or depth they deserve. But Churails is a show not guilty of that. The male characters in the show are allies- some of them at least- , they help, respect but never try to exert dominance. They realise the hardships of being a woman in patriarchal society so they try their best to accommodate. What was really refreshing was the working class portrayal of male ally-ship. It’s the working class men, who at large are viewed as the misogynist dangerous predators whereas their elite counterparts are glorified and deemed to be allies rather than predators. The show breaks this stereotype. One of the most interesting and real characters in the show was inspector J played by Fawad Khan (no, not the one who was in Humsafar). His character arc is the most satisfying. You see his character develop from a small minded misogynistic man who watches item songs to a man who slowly realises his own privilege and tries to help in the only way he can.
Before starting the show I was scared that it won’t live up to the promise it kept on making about strong female characters because there have been many shows that promise the same thing but end up misinterpreting the very idea of a strong woman. Churails was thankfully not like that. Though the characters felt real and I’m sure many related to them too, the show at places did falter. In one particular incidence, Jugnu in order to gain access to some information threatens to out a closet lesbian friend. At one hand I am thankful for the LGBTQ representation but on the other hand I’m also aware that the show doesn’t really do justice while portraying the community. But then the question arises should art be looked at through a social justice perspective? While the characters might have been homophobic, the show never was. I’m grateful that it didn’t fetishise the community at least.
Having said that, Churails isn’t without its flaws. While it addressed issues, their addressing sometimes felt like a gimmick. It felt as though a certain liberal trope was used because it would attract the certain audience the show is aiming at. After all, the show is only available to a numbered few. It’s not on mainstream media and honestly it would take decades for a show like Churails to be aired on mainstream TV channels. Another thing that really ticked me off was the class divide. It was addressed but not highlighted enough. Also, Omair Rana, an actor accused of predatory behaviour plays the predator and it was quite uncomfortable to watch.
Since it’s premiere Churails has been the talk of the town. It’s been constantly trending on twitter and it’s quite evident that Mard ko dard hua. Churails is a refreshing new start and a way forward. In a society where dialogues like Do Takkay Ki Aurat dominate, mard ko dard hoga is a welcome change.
The show is streaming on Zee5 and is absolutely worth a watch.