Churails is up again, in all its fire and fury
The 10-episode Pakistani mini serial Churails, with all things the right ingredients — drugs, alcohol, infidelity, interspersed with foul language for a great Pakistani thriller —has suddenly taken the Pakistani drama aficionados by storm, two months after its release in August.
All it took was the creators pulling it down for two days, a few tweets to draw the media's as well as everyone else's attention to the series.
Last week, its writer and director, Asim Abbasi (of Cake film fame) took to Twitter lamenting its "shut down in its country of origin".
There was no official word from Zee5, or by any Pakistani media regulatory authority why or on whose behest it was pulled down by the digital entertainment platform that had put money behind its production.
How did it bounce back so quickly?
"This negative publicity has made the audience more curious. No one knows who was behind the ban or whatever it was but it has surely helped the platform, the web series and upcoming shows," pointed out film critic Omair Alavi.
And while conjecture continues, those who have watched the entire series have come up with mixed reviews.
Psychologist Dr Asha Bedar found it "refreshing" to watch "unapologetic expression of all things women."
"I loved that it was in your face; nothing polite, nothing diplomatic!" she said.
Churails is definitely not what Pakistani drama and soap watchers are used to.
In a country where violence against women is common and where women are supposed to be meek and mere doormats, to show four badass women — a wedding planner, a rich homemaker, a murder convict and a burka-clad boxer — turn detectives, who have experienced some form of patriarchy and who decide to take matters into their hands, the storyline will either be loved or hated.
"They [the four characters] want to get on with their lives on their own terms and help others do the same," said Nimra Bucha, who plays Batool the murderer.
Mahnaz Rahman, Aurat Foundation's resident director for Sindh, enjoyed the series thoroughly.
"It was amazing to watch women taking revenge from their husbands who cheated on them. They raised the issue of homosexuality as well as racism. It is about feminists' power and shows the ugly face of elites who want to turn women into dolls," she said.
A divided opinion
Alavi, on the other hand, said the series' makers had taken the "creative liberties" a bit too far.
It certainly was not a suitable choice as an "opening batsman" being the first of the five Pakistani mini-series to be released on an Indian platform and maybe a less controversial drama series could have been a better choice as a starter.
For Daanika Kamal, doing her doctorate in law and gender, the "element of centering feminism around violence (more so, revenge through violence) was a bit "off-putting".
"I also didn't like that it didn't really hold anyone accountable (particularly the system)," she said adding that the "strange sexual fantasy boys club was a bit over the top for my taste."
She found the scene with Sania Saeed cooking and eating her husband problematic too.
"I didn't like that they chose that particular scene to link to a closeted gay man, given that gay sex is a legal crime and carries a death sentence in the eyes of society as it is!"
But there was a lot of good in the series too, said Kamal.
She liked that the characters were "raw, imperfect and it shed light on a lot of prevalent issues in society — marital rape, sexual abuse, class divide". She also found it uplifting that "we finally found a way to show women characters that owned their anger, that women feeling anger is legitimate."
However, she said she would be wary of giving the series "feminist" overtones because feminism in Pakistan is seen as "women out for revenge" just like some who see "Aurat march as 'behayai'."
Banning a critically acclaimed show
With the series back where it was, there is not knowing what is in store for Pakistani watchers or for how long they can watch Zee5's content without fear of it being pulled down.
But people have lodged complaints both to PEMRA and PTA.
However, according to lawyer Nighat Dad, who heads the Digital Rights Foundation, because digital streaming services do not come under Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), responsible for regulating and issuing channel licenses for the establishment of the mass media culture, print and electronic media, it "cannot legally ban programmes from being aired on those platforms".
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Pakistan Telecommunications Authority official said, "it was in correspondence with Zee5" (after receiving a deluge of complaints) requesting the platform to take down the play since it cannot block the content from its end.
Fareiha Aziz, co-founder of Bolo Bhi, a digital rights and civil liberties advocacy group, says, "What prompted this requires clarity, whether [it was] public backlash which I know there was one."
"But the restriction by Zee5 itself, whether a result of public backlash or request routed through PEMRA or PTA citing violation of code of conduct or law, needs further corroboration and clarity."