'Witches of Pakistan' takes India by storm, culture transcends politics

Dubbed “Witches of Pakistan,” Churails are about four feisty women who seek to chase and expose men engaged in infidelity, writes Mahendra Ved for South Asia Monitor

Mahendra Ved Aug 30, 2020
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Defying tensions that currently dominate the India-Pakistan relations is ‘Churails’, a Pakistani web series that has also marked the return, albeit in an altered form, what used to be an extremely popular television channel, Zindagi, some years ago.

The ten-episode series is available on the OTT platform Zee5 in India. The Indian Express, among others, gave it a thumps-up. Its critic wrote: “Churails gives us a Karachi-based band of women whose motto is to wreak revenge on the men who have made their lives miserable. Directed by Asim Abbasi, who made the engaging family drama Cake, Churails brims over with feisty, feminist, fast-paced fun.”

Before the release, Bollywood filmmaker Anurag Kashyap in a shout-out tweeted: “One cannot wait for it to hit the OTT platform… Had no clue this was directed by Asim Abbasi. Adding to my watch-list."

Abbasi had initially thought of making a feature film but realised it may not work with the Pakistani censors, not even for the television. Luck and circumstances, he says, brought him in touch with Zee’s Chief Creative Officer, Special Projects Shailja Kejriwal.  

He candidly told Dawn in an interview: “This isn’t Bollywood, and while the investment may have been from India, the talent is Pakistani, as are the stories they’re telling. The only discernible difference is the change in medium, method of delivery and technical terms: streaming replaces broadcasting, internet replaces terrestrial satellites, and cellular (or web-enabled) devices and apps replace television.”

Story of four feisty women

Dubbed “Witches of Pakistan,” Churails are about four feisty women who seek to chase and expose men engaged in infidelity.  The four characters are played by Sarwat Gilani, Mehar Bano, Yasra Rizvi, Nimrat Bucha.

“This kind of a project hasn’t happened in India as well,” Shailja has said. “Churails isn’t limiting itself to a particular class, a particular issue, or a particular body type [as in women who look like archetypically-figured, dolled up heroines]. We’re exploring the story from all points of view. Most others just show the protagonists’ inner strength, not their vulnerabilities.” The message is subtle at times, she says. “Here, empowerment means giving women the right of choices.”

“We’re not asking anyone to empower anyone. We’re asking women to empower themselves,” Shailja tells me earlier. The hard sell seems to work. To break new ground, Zee Zindagi needs striking projects to buzz up the market, Mohammed Kaman Jawaid wrote in Dawn.

More such India-Pakistan collaborations may be in store. Abbasi had sent five or six and Churails was taken up first, says Jawaid.  

Meanwhile Pakistani artistes, media and literary circles paid rich tributes to Indian Urdu poet, lyricist and writer Rahat Indori who died last month.

Tributes for Rahat Indori

Renowned singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, whose “O re Piya” is famous across South Asia and wherever Urdu and Hindustani classical music are appreciated, tweeted: “Deeply saddened to hear the news of the demise of the great poet Rahat Indori Sahib… May Allah bless his soul and give his family the immense strength to recover from this loss. Industry lost a gem today!"

The Express Tribune also noted that Pakistani actor Mehwish Hayat, obliquely touching Indo-Pak relations, shared an excerpt of Indori's poem: "Dosti jab kisi se ki jaye, dushmanon ki bhi raaye li jaye, mere maazi ke zakham bharne lagay, aaj phir koi bhool ki jaye."

Renowned Bollywood writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar said Like Habib Jalib, the renowned Pakistani poet, Indori was “from the fast disappearing tribe of poets who are never short of courage to call a spade a spade.”

Actor-singer Adnan Sami, who renounced his Pakistani citizenship and is now an Indian, condoled Indori’s death by sharing his picture and wrote, “Saddened to learn that legendary Urdu Poet.

Unmistakably quoted was Indori’s line that has become increasingly popular in recent times: “'Kisi Ke Baap Ka Hindustan Thodi Hai'.

Irrfan Khan nostalgia

Bollywood celebrity deaths and disputes over alleged plagiarism of work on one side of the border by someone on the other, especially lyrics and musical scores, remain the regular staple for the discourse that transcends the territorial and political divide.

A respect-filled Irrfan Khan nostalgia lingers on in Pakistan months after his death. Actor Sarwat Gilani in an interview has said that just before the political situation between India and Pakistan became sour, preventing artists from both sides to work with each other, someone from Irrfan’s team in Mumbai got in touch with her to offer her work in one of his forthcoming films. “Unfortunately, it didn’t materialise. She exclaimed she could only imagine how amazing it would have been “just to see Irrfan Khan and how he acts”, Dawn reported.

(The writer is  President, Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA). He can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com)

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