Asim Abbasi is one of those names of Pakistani entertainment industry, who has his share in making country known on international scene. Getting many accolades for his debut film Cake (2018), his recent web series, Churails on Zindagi tab at OTT app Zee5 has created much hype and is getting positive reviews for its story, direction and acting and overall production.
Here is the exclusive interview with the writer and director of Churails, who says he has introduced a completely opposite meaning of this word.
What was the reason behind deciding this title Churails for the series?
I tried to subvert the meaning of word that is usually used in a negative way to label women.
“Historically we used to hear from our elders that woman, who denies obeying men around her like father, brother and husband, and courage to take decision of her own life is labelled as ‘Churail’”
How you have defined Churail?
My Churail is a woman who is against every kind of oppression and stand up for her own and others rights; who is liberated emotionally, physically and sexually, and accepting g all this qualities and taking it as a stride and wearing it as badge of honour.
Tell us something about the storyline of the series?
Churails is a team of four women, coming from different backgrounds and environments, economically and socially; one is married, one is divorced, and one is young, while the one is much older and has been married before. These characters carry my definition of Churail, who can be from a highly rich and privileged woman to extremely poor and underprivileged one, and have different kinds of oppression and issues but undergoes through a same pain, trauma, and humiliation and have to deal with it irrespective of their class.
“It is not just about how a woman can stand up for her rights in this patriarchal system but how is she downplayed in our society. It is a wide range that includes child marriages, domestic violence, abusive attitude, and judgement on her physical appearances like body shaming.”
When and how Churails was shot?
Churails was shot in the summer of last year mostly in Karachi, a short portion in Hyderabad while a small portion was needed to shoot in London.
It was a very long process. We had over 100 locations, and besides these four leading actors, had a very huge cast for supporting characters as well. The post production work was conducted in Pakistan, India and London via our teams in three cities who were constantly coordinating with each other.
How much Churail is the visual treat and how strong is the series visually?
I have tried to bring Churails to a feature film level and give it a complete cinematic feel. The series includes massive sets and a lot of fighting and action sequence which we rarely see in Pakistani series.
“We shot them with the same camera on which we shot Cake. Visually it is richer than Cake as the cake was a naturalistic and realistic story while Churails was made in keeping the international audience in my mind as well. So visually it is more striking g and much bolder.”
It is said that a formula of a successful web series is the inclusion lot of sex, violence and abuse it. Do you agree?
It is more of a stigma than reality. These things come when story or narrative demand them. I think web has become a medium where we are experimenting with things that can’t be show in films and television that is deriving or stories from real life. So, if story includes a character who use abusive language in real life, then it would be shown on screen as well to keep it closer to reality. Like there are some shows that address things of sex. So it goes according to story.
Is the intended message and desired impact of Churails is women empowerment and liberation?
A fiction filmmaker do raise question instead of giving message and pass judgement unless it is a documentary on specific subject. “We don’t necessarily give message but raise questions. There are many questions, I have aised in Churails about status of a woman in a patriarchal society but I am not giving a moral judgement on it.”
Do you think that Churails would bring a fresh debate or a change in thinking towards women?
I don’t say that the show would bring a mass revolution but I am sure that the art has a power of putting slow but trickledown effect to make a change in the general thinking of society like if this show gives a break to producers to make more shows like this, people would be continually open to what they were not used to and will start accepting it.
“But yes, I want people to watch it especially men and if after watching it, even on a marginal rate, they become empathetic toward what a woman goes through in her life then I think my job is done.”
Which word you have selected to translate ‘Churails’ in English?
I have not changed the word in dubbing and kept it Churail as I wanted this word or term to be known globally. I just translated its literal meaning (witch) in subtitling; otherwise it was going like the same.
“If you go look into the symbolism of witchcraft and churail in the folklores, it is almost the same despite being in different t parts of the worlds. Both of them burned to stake when stood up for their own rights and scared man of that patriarchal society.”
Tell us something about your major cast?
The interesting about casting for a web series that you don’t go for star cast who work on the box office but look for the actors who are really fit for the characters.
These women are really worth for my story, like Sarwat has a lot of personality traits she shares with her character of Sarah, while Nimra had the perfect physique needed for the role of Batool, and Bano, being physically small and petite but feisty worked for Zubaida, yes only Yasra’s portraying of the daring and overconfident Jugnu is a bit different than her actual self but with her skills, she adopted that character smartly.
“All of them have proved themselves as brilliant actors and I am sure Churails will be their careers high and historical performance.”
Raaz-e-Ulfat Very Well Relates to a Pakistani Girl Living in a Strict Household
Raaz-e-Ulfat is one of the latest dramas that has instantly struck a chord with masses owing to its relatable story-line and amazing performances by the remarkable cast. For the uninitiated, what exactly is the plot?
Putting it briefly, Mushk Iftikhar dreams of exploring the world outside her conservative house. She accomplishes her dream life to some extent when she comes across a friend in her university who introduces her to the colours of life. Though, little does Mushk know that Sehba secretly envies her simplicity and innocence and wishes to ruin her life.
Mushk’s life is somewhat a true depiction of most Pakistani girls belonging to strict households, and hence the show has become more interesting and connecting for the younger lot in Pakistan.
You can’t move a bone without your parent’s permission
Yes! Parent’s approval is mandatory in everything you do. You can’t study, sleep, eat, choose a career, go out, come late, etc. as per your own will. You can only breathe on your own… rest will depend on your parents’ will. Poor Mushk is in the same boat.
Privacy is a luxury you can never afford.
Mushk has got no private space in her house. She shares a room with her sister, like how it is usually in most households. Even when she is on a call with a friend, someone comes to inquire about the whereabouts of the caller. Privacy is indeed an out of the world thing for Mushk and others like her.
You have to be responsible like a grown-up, but you can never act like one.
Like Mushk, most Pakistani youth, particularly girls, are expected to grow up and take responsibilities but are not allowed to think that they have grown up in a literal way. Hence, you are always a bachi/ bacha who is bound to live by what your parents say.
Marriage is your ultimate goal in life
You dream about marriage and your khuwabon ka shehzada because that’s what your parents aim for you on completing your studies.
Modern Friends Are A Big No!
You cannot stay in touch with rich and modern friends as they are supposedly some spoilt kids who will definitely leave a bad influence on you.
Dating someone is a big struggle!
Going out on a date is a real struggle yet you want to experience it despite knowing that if your parents find out, you are gone for life.
Since the very first episode, Raaz e Ulfat has turned every local TV drama trope on its head to offer a refreshingly new insight by subverting all the typical clichéd plot-lines of most local dramas, bringing forth such nuances that make the entire watching experience oh so relatable and befitting for people around us.
Bunyad Foundation: Countering cerebral health issues with Mindcamp
Mental health, despite holding paramount significance, is largely ignored in third world countries. With societal progression, the rise of the middle class, and a certain ‘tilt’ or ‘shift’ towards westernization, issues associated with mental health have started to exacerbate. According to recent studies, one of the biggest reasons behind suicidal tendencies or suicide itself is mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and other traumas, different phobias, bipolar disorder, personality disorder and other related disorders.
If we travel a few years back in time, mental health issues were unheard of in Pakistan, in fact, someone found complaining or discussing a mental health issue was either given a particular look or called out for being ‘overly-sensitive’. But over the past few years, things have changed drastically. Now, there are more and more people suffering from mental disorders and psychiatric consultations have increased considerably over time, but even now, a certain amount of people hesitate to seek psychiatric consultation.
The onslaught of Covid-19 has further aggravated the situation throughout the country, with people reporting severe cases of depression and anxiety amid continued lockdowns. It is pertinent to mention here that, although, the issues mentioned are usually associated with urban areas, but the situation in rural areas of Pakistan isn’t much different. Alarmingly, unlike popular opinion, that villages are happy-go-lucky people, even the village dwellers are unknowingly harnessing several mental disorders in this modern age.
In order to facilitate the underprivileged living in less developed, far-flung areas, the Bunyad Foundation in collaboration with Mind organization, has started organizing bi-monthly mind-camps in Hafizabad. The purpose of these camps is to provide free-of-cost facilities to underserved communities. Under these free camps, patients are provided free consultation, medicine and an intervention plan; that too free of cost.
Shaheen Attiq-ur-Rahman, Project Lead and founder of Mind Camp Bunyad, told us that, ‘rural folk suffers from the same mental disorders as more privileged people but often the intensity is greater. Most of the people do not have access to basic medication for relief. Since a lot of unhealed psychiatric disorders can lead to physical ill-health, rural folk face a double burden. At Mindcamp Bunyad, our mission is to give suffering villagers a chance at peace and to ease their task in life’.
It took some time, the involvement of Key Opinion leaders and sustained efforts to convince people to seek help for mental disorders and now there’s better awareness about these issues. In addition, the organization has been carrying out these activities for the past 9 years, by engaging experienced and trained mental health professionals, even in extreme weather, just for the betterment of the society. However, now, the number of mental health professionals offering services has dwindled, in fact, the patient-to-doctor/mental health professional ratio is discouraging.
In order for the unabated and unrestricted continuation of these services, and in order for better, sustained facility provision to the patients; financial backing is imminent, without which such a great initiative gradually might have to retreat. To facilitate the imperative service, Bunyad Foundation is playing a major role.
Get in touch with them to see how you can help.
For donations, please donate here.
Quiet Women: on Surrealism, Beauty and the Female Voice
Lahore based poet, editor and columnist, Afshan Shafi launched her first full-length poetry collection, ‘Quiet Women’ last month. Stocked at Readings, the collection is a unique all-female collaboration featuring the illustrations of acclaimed artists, Samya Arif (Pakistan), Marjan Baniasadi (Iran) and Ishita Basu Mallik (India).
TS Eliot award nominee and winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry, Vahni Capildeo termed ‘Quiet Women’ as one of the ‘new poetries emerging in the twenty-first century which are characterized by a ferocity that spans yet exceeds love and outrage, involvement and observation’.
‘Quiet Women’ is an exploration of form and linguistic artistry, propelled by a sense of creative freedom espoused by the surrealists and abstract artists. Inspired by the creations of both Eastern and Western female artists and writers this book is a tribute to women and the power of their collective voices. Afshan Shafi has studied English Literature and International Relations at The University of Buckingham and Webster Graduate School London. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Blackbox Manifold, Poetry Wales, Flag + Void, Luna Luna, Clinic, 3 am magazine, Ala Champ Magazine, and others. Her poems have also appeared in the anthologies, Smear (edited by Greta Bellamacina), The New River Press Yearbook and Halal if you hear me ( edited by Fatima Asghar and Salma Elhilo). Her debut chapbook of poems ‘Odd Circles’ was published by Readings (Pakistan) in 2014. For her work as a poet, she has been interviewed by Arte Tv (France) and Words Without Borders. As part of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan she has appeared on BBC (World), The Times (UK), and in The Economist’s culture magazine. She has also served as a poetry editor for “The Missing Slate” and is currently a senior contributing editor at Pakistan’s leading literary journal “The Aleph Review”. She also serves as an editor-in-chief for the online Pandemonium Journal, which is a platform for emerging creatives from Pakistan and abroad.
Inspiration to write this book:
This is my first full-length collection and is a tribute to the panoply of female artists that continue to inspire me. From the creations of Iranian artist Farideh Lashai to the work of lesser-known poets like Veronica Forrest, there is a rich engagement with the work of these female trailblazers in ‘Quiet Women’. What makes the book different is its collaborative nature. Each artist I have collaborated with in ‘Quiet Women’ possesses something unique to their perspective. Samya Arif’s illustrations are defined by their bold and stylized detail. She thinks in an opulent manner. Marjan Baniasadi, hails from Iran and has studied at the NCA and her paintings are elegant, deeply intelligent and beautiful. Ishita Basu who lives in Calcutta, India, is a poet as well as an artist and there is such a yearning and melancholy to her creations. Their art complements my writing seamlessly in the book.
On how ‘Quiet Women’ came together
‘Quiet Women came together over a period of two years, where my poems were being frequently accepted by European magazines for publication. I decided to put together a collection of these poems with some newer verses with the intention to collaborate with artists for the final product. The titular poem of the collection ‘Quiet Women’ deals with the notion of female silence and the policing of a women’s language and her personal choices. For one reason or the other, this notion of ‘quietude’ had been drilled into me from an early age, and as I grew as a writer I started questioning all kinds of enforced silences, which in turn led me to critically examining all kinds of oppressive practices aimed at ‘containing’ the very agency of a woman. ‘Quiet Women’ as a book, functions for me as a bridge across a myriad number of fears; these verses are bridges across patriarchal structures, restrictive artistic ideologies, and perhaps purely existential concerns
On the collaboration with artists for ‘Quiet Women’
I would say that I have been a student of the Surrealists my whole life, as I have often been drawn to the interplay of artist mediums, in which they reveled. Surreal output has always been concerned with juxtapositions and techniques like ‘collage’ and ‘frottage’, and indulgence in hybridity. For example, Surrealist collaborations include films based on poems, in the way that the filmmaker Man Ray adapted poems by Robert Desnos to his medium. Since my poems are often initiated by visual ephemera, and my imaginative focus is on delineating these visuals (triggered of course by emotion or artistic curiosity), I found collaboration with these artists to be a natural progression. Each artist was sent the poem to illustrate without any instructions, the idea was for there to be a fluidity of connection, one derived purely by imaginative means, and for the artworks to be instinctual and primal.
Creative influences and the impact of Surrealism on my work
Each poem in ‘Quiet Women’ is a tribute to the marginalised, whether that figure be that of a woman or an artist or poet. Each poem aims to counter reality with the dream and to re-engineer the accepted image of the creative as ‘outlier’. Whether in terms of stylistic experimentation, influence or tribute, this book aims to upset normative modes of thought and glorify one’s creative faculty. The founder of Surrealism, Andre Breton, spoke much of how the imagination is seen as a threat to all dimensions of order, similarly, much of my work is concerned with consistently upending language, mass-perspective and received ideas.
On why I enjoy poetry as a genre and as my chosen form
A poet often writes a poem as a postscript to an emotion. ‘High tragedy’ or ‘wondrous joy’ need not compel the writing of verse, it could be a retained sense of childlike wonder for say an owl or the precise engineering of a pistol. I feel that I write primarily to escape a powerful inborn reticence. In that vein these words by the great James Joyce encapsulate perfectly the retaliatory bent of my mind as it stitches a sentence together; ‘poetry even when apparently most fantastic is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality’.
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