Churails is the latest offering by the director Asim Abbasi, known for his directorial debut, the critically acclaimed film, Cake (Netflix). Ever since the popularity of Resurrection: Ertugrul, other shows have had little sway over the Pakistani audience. However, the ZEE5 10-episode web series Churails, though not as popular, has certainly made waves owing to a strong cast and controversial themes.
Although feminism is exploited for its marketability around the world, such an enterprise is still a relatively novel idea when it comes to the medium of film in Pakistan. Churails leverages the freedom that comes with being a web series to touch on topics that otherwise go unexplored in our society. Though most of it is to do with the patriarchal oppression of women, the show does veer towards intersectionality by exploring transgenderism and class differences.
Poster art for Churails
The series begins its first hour by establishing the premise of a boutique that acts as a front for a detective agency. The boutique called Halal Designs which sells stylish burqas is a perfect cover for the detective agency that aims to expose the sordid activities of men.
Abbasi tries his best to channel his inner Manto and is successful so far as uncomfortable themes and shock factor go, but falls short, ironically enough, when it comes to originality. The show is marred by banal modern-day tropes, as one reviewer put it, “most things are black and white. The rich are smart and dominating. The poor, dumb and jazbaati (emotional).” The few men who act in good faith and get some screen time, predictably enough, turn out to be love interests for the leading ladies.
Though some have hailed it as a progressive exploration of the harsh realities of our society, others have decried its vulgarity and opposed its message. Others still have pointed out the hypocrisy of the show in casting the Pyar Ke Sadqay actor, Omair Rana. Omair Rana became embroiled in a scandal a few months back when he was one of the people reportedly accused of sexual harassment by a few students from Lahore Grammar School (LGS), where he taught drama.
So @omairana’s wife Maira Omair Rana has been slut-shaming girls and silencing them since years over being harassed by the male faculty of LGS 1A1. This woman continues to preach “morals” and “ethics” while being a deeply rooted cause of the problem along with Rubina Shakeel 1/2
— Minzi⁷ (@girltipzyy) June 28, 2020
In reference to a series of harassment allegations made against staff at LGS, a user by the handle of @ahplsdont tweeted,
“Sir, you missed a name: Omair Rana. He used to teach Drama at LGS 1A1. Many have come forward about their uncomfortable experiences with him too. Attatching screenshots below.”
The said screenshots were presumably of students coming forward in an anonymous forum,
“Omair Rana was hired for the school annual play. So many girls had issues with his behavior. He would flirt, and joke inappropriately. Initially, it was taken all in fun. Like everyone admired him to the core [as] he was known for being so good in dramatics. Everyone wanted to learn from him, be at their best with him. But gradually it started becoming clear as more and more girls started experiencing it. His body language was inappropriate. The way he would speak, look at you, and even texted a few girls inappropriately.”
Another message read,
“Also you know he has this new drama something where he is harassing a young girl. Every time I see its ad, it all comes rushing back. And I keep thinking in my head that for him playing this character won’t be this hard, as it’s sorta him.”
Rana called out these tweets as libel, asked for an “unconditional apology” and threatened action. The tweets and the account, since deleted, seem to suggest that the user relented.
Sexual harassment is a heinous crime and should be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. At the same time the dignity and respect of individuals must not be falsely tainted. The law provides remedies for all and I intend to take all steps necessary …
— Omair Rana (@omairana) July 20, 2020
The series ran into another controversy when one of the viewers watching the opening sequence noticed an uncanny resemblance to something they had seen already. Twitter user by the name of Amna Tariq posted a side by side comparison, “Half a minute into the web series #Churails and I spot some blatant plagiarism in the opening credits. Malika Favre’s powerful illustration has been quite conveniently ripped off.”
Half a minute into the web series #churails and I spot some blatant plagiarism in the opening credits. @malikafavre’s powerful illustration has been quite conveniently ripped off. @nytopinion @nytimes @NewYorker pic.twitter.com/SNtF22eCGd
— Amna Tariq (@amna_tq) August 20, 2020
Artist Malika Favre also took notice of this development,
Oh god…. that IS bad! Thanks for sharing. Will look into it.
— malika favre (@malikafavre) August 21, 2020
The opening sequence was put together by Rokhan Studio, a content production company based in Peshawar. The company has not yet released a comment on the situation. Despite its shortcomings, the show is promising in offering a channel for future quality productions to be featured.