Filmmaker Asim Abbasi's Churails is the first Pakistani web series to stream on an Indian platform. The trailer garnered eye balls for highlighting subjects of patriarchy, exploitation, child abuse and homosexuality. The series follows the journey of four women who refer to themselves as Churails. They operate a covert detective agency to help women expose their cheating husbands, but then things get more serious.
The show is headlined by Sarwat Gilani Mirza, Nimra Bucha, Mehar Bano and Yasra Rizvi. We spoke to director Asim Abbasi and his actors about the "revolutionary" content, the therapy sessions they underwent together before the shoot schedule and what they hope the audience takes away from the show that is now streaming on Zee5.
Sneha Menon Desai: Asim, did you do any sort of research or has your own understanding told you that Pakistan and even the rest of the world is ready for this show right now?
Asim Abbasi: No, I only researched if I was being authentic enough to the stories that I was telling. I was lucky that Shailja (Kejriwal, Chief creative officer – Special projects, Zee Entertainment Enterprises) and Zee5 were so supportive and allowed me to create whatever I wanted to create, so I never had to think about who was ready for it. Hopefully more and more people will get ready over the course of the years as they keep seeing this. That was the strategy we were going with.
Sneha Menon Desai: Sarwat, you said in an interview that you'll were so excited when you heard the script that you'll were "ready to jump in the fire." Where did that sense of confidence come from for each of you? How did you go about convincing those that matter to you that this was something that you needed to do?
Sarwat Gilani: You just can't turn down a script or story like this. In my career of 18 years as an actor or as a viewer, I have not seen anything like this. It's kind of tricky because at one end we have the burqa, we also have the cuss words, we have the women empowerment angle – you know there will be backlash. But what's the fun of having a boring career till the end of your life? I wanted to do this so that there will be lots of questions that we've been meaning to answer and issues that we've been meaning to talk about. So it was just a beautiful platter which was offered to me and I really wanted to just hog it.
Nimra Bucha: I'm usually very unhappy with the kind of parts that I am offered, because I feel that characters in my age group are just not given any meat in the script at all. When I went to meet Asim I was skeptical but when I read the script it was a very, very selfish reason behind me saying yes. I knew it was a part that I just could not bear to see anyone else do.
Mehr Bano: From the start I understood that it was revolutionary and entirely different from all the other work that I have been doing in the past which in a sense was just reimposing stereotypes. In fact it was high time that something like this was created and I am so glad to be one of the first few that gets to do something like this.
Yasra Rizvi: When I read the pilot episode, I was truly impressed with the writing and I was like "Wow! Maybe this is how I am going to get to learn how to write better!" I'm one of those people who like watching a film and predicting that "yeh hone wala hain" aur woh ho bhi jaata hain. Lekin yeh bahut waisa hain ke aksar woh nahi hota, jo aapko lagta hain hone wala hain. That's what makes it really cool and that's what happened to me with this script.
Sneha Menon Desai: What did Asim tell each of you about your characters that helped you really get into the mind space or get a hook on them?
Nimra Bucha: Even before we started rehearsals we did what Asim calls "therapy." There were these sessions where we'd sit and talk about ourselves and we'd talk about the characters and Asim would just listen and absorb. It would make us really uncomfortable wondering what he was noting down. But it was great because it really helped us loosen up as actors. It was also my first time working with him and it helped me identify the ways that I shouldn't play Batool. When I read the script I thought to myself, "Oh, I can do this, this is very cool. It's what I've been waiting to do." But then it turns out Asim says "no, actually this is not how you are going to play her." He told me very specific qualities that I have as an actor that I could not bring to Batool. So in a way it was getting to know myself as an actor better as well as getting to know Batool.
Sarwat Gilani: Asim also told us that "puraani tv ki acting nahi chalegi, filmy acting nahi chalegi!" So I felt like I had to shed off a lot of my old ways to emote and learn new ways to speak, emote or even use my body. I watched films like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel for a few characteristics. Princess Gayatri Devi was a big influence because my character had to have that body language with a lot of grace and poise. In real life I'm a total malang so I had to really contain myself for Sara.
Mehr Bano: Because I play a boxer in the series I had to be very physically involved with the whole process. I've never been involved in many sports so I had to actually learn how to box. I had to go to this really downtrodden area of Karachi to really get into my character, because that's the only way we could actually, authentically create a character like this.
Sneha Menon Desai: Has this at some level spoilt each of you with regards to the kind of work you hope to get going forward?
Nimra Bucha: If this had come really early in my career, I would have expected things to change. I would've expected something better to come along. But now I know this is as good as it gets. One can only try to encourage other people and keep nudging them to try and do things differently.
Yasra Rizvi: This is certainly effecting the kind of work I am choosing to do. I am probably going to be even more broke than before as a result of this but well, such is life.
Sneha Menon Desai: Asim, there's a line in the series that says "we are going to rewrite the rules now, because up until now the rules have been written by men." Did you at any point worry that you wouldn't be able to do justice to the issues women faced because you are a man?
Asim Abbasi: Absolutely, that's been my biggest fear throughout. More than anything else I worried about how its going to be received and whether I was doing justice to the female story. Whether there was unknowingly or unconsciously a male gaze entering because that was a strict no-no for me. But it really helped that majority of my crew were women. A lot of my ADs were female and they were constantly reading the scripts from day 1. The cast was also entirely women and we had a long prep process where I was spending a lot of time with them and constantly incorporating their feedback into the writing.
Sneha Menon Desai: There's also gore and violence in terms of visuals. As a director where did you draw that line on how far you could go and not more?
Asim Abbasi: I didn't draw the line. I'm not a big gore fan or something but for example what happens in episode 4, I felt had to be shown. I think those were the judgement calls that I was making throughout the series but it was never violence for the sake of it. So when I show a butcher's shop, there's a meaning behind it, rather than just showing meat. Hopefully the audience would be able to see and realise that it's not some kind of gore fest.
Sneha Menon Desai: As the audience gets ready to watch Churails, what do you hope they take away from it?
Asim Abbasi: I want them to know that it's a very thrilling, edge of your seat ride that you will enjoy for its entertainment value but once you've thoroughly enjoyed the show I want it to nag at you for weeks and months to come.
Sarwat Gilani: I'd like some people to get really uncomfortable and to ask themselves why they are getting uncomfortable. I want people to see the things that are happening in front of them and question themselves as to why haven't done anything to fix it.