By Twinkle Ghosh
His first film ‘Cake’ was Pakistan’s official entry to the Oscars. And now, filmmaker Asim Abbasi is back with his new web series Churails. In an exclusive interview with CanIndia News, Abbasi speaks about directing for an Indian Production House, the apprehension of moving into a new genre, showbiz in a pandemic-afflicted Pakistan and a lot more…
“At this stage one gets nervous, if people will like it, if they’d be able to relate to it,” starts off Abbasi as he describes the genre of this 10-episode series on Zee5. “The style of Churails morphs as you go along – just like the characters. What begins as slightly pretentious gradually delves into something more serious. The idea was not to box Churails into a specific genre. The audiences are kept on their toes. There is the element of suspense and mystery that keeps you guessing and wanting for more. It’s definitely a thriller but at the same time, it is also a nuanced study of the four main characters, thereby making it a drama. The tone goes from one of whimsy to seriousness, to a darker world of thriller and suspense.”
Unlike his directorial debut Cake, Churails is not a quiet slip-in. “Churails is anything but quiet. Its loud, it wants to be noticed. While Cake just wanted to slip in, this one comes with all guns blazing,” says Abbasi. “A filmmaker has to keep reinventing himself, sometimes new moves work; sometimes they do not work. It is important to push boundaries and that’s what we have tried to do with Churails,” he adds.
If anything, Churails is about subverting the tropes, feels Abbasi. “The word ‘Churail’ is often used for women who are out there living their lives unabashedly; about women who are not living a conformist life, obedient within the four walls of their house. It has negative connotations but here, we are talking about courage, aggression, ambition, liberation (sexual or emotional), the ability to go out and get what they want – and these are anything but damaging qualities. And if a woman is called a churail for having these potentials, she needs to wear the title as a badge of honour,” he says.
Speaking about his collaboration with an Indian digital medium, the filmmaker says, “When I started writing, I realised this wasn’t just going to be a feature length project. It needed more time. The characters needed development, as did their individual storylines. So, when Zee 5 reached out, I did a pilot for them and soon got commissioned. Working with them since, has been a great experience.
“We have shared and bounced ideas and I have been given complete creative freedom. And that, is not something artistes get in most mediums. There is always the pressure of networks/studios telling you to do things a certain way, but my vision has not been compromised at all. From episode one to 10, I’ve told my story structurally, narratively, thematically, exactly how I’ve wanted to tell it. I have been kept incredibly involved with the entire process, which in itself, has been a very humbling experience.”
Discussing the digital platform practice, Abbasi says it’s extremely liberating. “There are no censorship restrictions; you don’t have to sugar-coat anything – it’s very liberating creatively. I am excited to be able to tell Churails in a medium that it belongs. It would reach more people than would come to the cinema to see something like this,” he says.
Moving on to the current state of affairs, the filmmaker adds: “Covid-19 has impacted showbiz terribly in Pakistan and around the world. Several films had to be shelved because cinemas have shut down. Lots of projects canned; halted productions; it is a terrible time for the industry. But, lucky for me, Churails was always meant to be for the digital platform. In times like these, we need the government’s support; we need funding – only then will the industry survive.”