To clarify initially this write-up is not to applaud the male characters; Asim Abbasi has created for his plausible presentation Churails. Rather I attempt to convey how it is essentially important for men to support feminism for their own good.
Shams, Dilbar and Boss are reasonable characters. The good thing is that they are never treated exceptionally by the women characters, because in a feminist utopia they are precisely acting ‘normal’. As a foil, we have three misogynists in the plot that are more important to understand in order to appreciate the former: Jameel Khan, K.K, and Iftikhar Chaudhry who are not ugly men reeking of betel nut and moonshine; they are wealthy and poised intellectuals, quite chivalrous in their demeanor.
It is convenient to talk about the contrasting roles of Jameel Khan and Shams as romantic partners. Jameel Khan, a wealthy politician, apparently plays a desirable head of an almost perfect family of five, ready to be photographed. It includes his non-practicing lawyer wife Sarah Khan and their children; two sons and a daughter. Sarah Khan is a cultured wife that looks elegant at thirty-something, serving baked sausages to her man on an expensive dish with a dignified smile. We get to know the darker sides of Jameel’s chivalry when he discourages Sarah to resume her career, telling her that he is there for her and she doesn’t need to be a tiresome working woman, also mocking her ineligibility as a law specialist after years of home-making. His multiple extramarital relationships are revealed gradually also flashbacking a harassment suit against Jameel a few years ago in which Sarah helped him through by giving a false statement to media. The South Asian audience soon regains sympathy for him when Sarah separates their personal lives under the same roof and only partners him in parenting their children. It’s not abnormal if your typical upbringing makes you a foolish empath when Jameel still takes stand to protect his wife. This is exactly the bubble Abbasi wants to burst that these ‘negligible’ crimes are actually a microcosm of the savage patriarchy that is killing women. Jameel turns out to be an ally to an evil team Jalwa that tailors women to their desire. This gang applies toxic fairness creams on women and butchers their flesh to hour-glass figures. Then, of course, they relish (rape) them and if needed, murder them. Jameel’s honorable command to his family on striving to be the best versions of themselves culminates into a disgusting picture at the secret beach party where women are auctioned to men who number their worth on the basis of the ‘object’s’ body parts. The point to learn here is what Jameel loses in comparison to a feminist ally Shams.
Shams being an expert hacker, never misuses the information for his personal interest. He not only respects but loves Zubaida for her boxing fever. It’s not that he is insensitive to Zubaida’s womanhood. In fact he is furious to learn that she wants to attend that dangerous beach party to espionage, yet eventually allies her in her selfless endeavor to serve society. We see him attending Zubaida’s boxing match at the end with a proud smile because he has won love. Zubaida loves him beyond his athletic physique just the way he doesn’t mind her freshly punched face. His dialogue “Aap lovely ho jee, lovely hi rahogi” (You are lovely and you will remain lovely), melts the audience. He is on a temporal clutch symbolizing a gradual recovery of the society itself. On the other hand, Jameel loses esteem. The irony is that in commanding others to be the best version of them, he himself is reduced to the worst version. He assumes that he has conquered women, not realizing that he has become a beast, represented by the wolf masquerade he wears at the party. Notice that men like him and K.K are themselves the most pitiable victims of patriarchy. Their conditioning at home and school have made them rats who keep corpuses as their trophies. Jameel’s mother and Iftikhar Chaudhry as the teacher at boarding school represent the flaws of nurture, a male child receives. These children are forbidden to cry and accompany their friends, rather they are hammered to kill and hunt. As a result, K.K dies a premature death and Jameel spends his life away from his family, chained in a suffocating toilet.
Professor Iftikhar Chaudhry is a very strong antagonist whose character imparts how we need to be critical of the hypocritical. His scholarship has not made him any better for the society, indicating how much needs to be rectified in the education system that is still carrying an ancestral burden of a male-dominated academia. When he ridicules her niece Jugnu for having “notions” to achieve higher, we see how law and philosophy are not objective discourses but they have been stained by patriarchy. The erudite scholar having authored a book on Feminism and Colonialism is against ambitious women and shames Jugnu’s black husband for his color and social stratification. And of course he is one of the major investors of Jalwa. The brilliant scene where Jugnu watches him in disgust when he devours a rare steak, narrates his dehumanization. At the end he is murdered by his endeared student and ally Jameel. Jugnu is devastated at this realization that how the carnality of these elite intellectuals like his uncle has reduced her to an alcoholic sufferer. She lost her prenatal child and the love of her husband because of the evil complexities they have crafted. Nevertheless, Jugnu Chaudhry is one of my favorite characters. Being the sprightly “queen of this whole damn jungle”, she is able to withdraw from alcohol, support women with similar grievances and earn unconventional love from his subordinate Dilbar. Dilbar, again is an everyman coming from a lower class. Yet what makes him heroic is his sense of concern towards humanity, no matter if that concern is ignited by the flame of his love for Jugnu. He imparts something very precious while convincing a laboratory staff to produce the genuine chemical report of Jalwa beauty cream: “Zindagi bohat kam kuch acha karne ka mauqa deti hai” (Life seldom gives opportunity to do good). If someone is lucky to have it, one must avail it. Towards the end when Jugnu decides to adopt a child, he stands by her decision with a sensitivity that her overqualified family members were not able to achieve.
I confess that the maverick policewalla Jamshed, whom Batool calls Boss, took my keenest attention. Boss, who falls in love at first sight with Batool, risks his position in order to make his position rightly in service to others. He does not meet the standard of conventional decency. In fact he is quite generous at slang and he is an uncompromising interrogator. Yet his vilified manners do not make him less human. He lives by example of how men in authority must resist corruption. He respects Batool’s non-conforming decision of iron-burning his husband’s genitals and killing him when he attempts sexual assault on his own biological girl child, and he also empathizes with her draining yet unrewarding quest for her lost daughter. When Batool asks him to let her fight the war alone, he speaks: “Kahin giro gi to hum sambhal lain ge magar mujhe pata hai ke tum nahin giro gi” (I’ll be there if you falter but I know you won’t). This is the kind of feminist contribution this critical presentation demands from men.
I feel it important to pen out my critical opinion on this show, months after its release, because I believe it carries a powerful message for the whole society inclusive of men, women and LGBTQQIP2SAA. I especially take this chance to reiterate that feminism is not a battle of sexes. It is a movement against patriarchy that is crumbling both men and women. Men are caned by their caregivers to be ‘men’ at the loss of their humaneness. Boys with an aesthetic or feminine inclination are ridiculed as sissy. Males or not so males are disowned for a different sexual orientation. Men lose their identity behind the face of a bread-winner. They are shamed for not earning enough. They may delight that they have domesticated their women but they themselves cannot do away with capitalist and corporate slavery. They are mortified for not meeting the criteria of a tall, dark, handsome hero. Men are not allowed to talk about their mental health issues. They are called to terrorism, fraud and debauchery in the name of manhood. They are silenced if they seek assistance to heal mentally and emotionally. Their joys and their pain are disregarded. They are reduced to watchdogs, butchers and machines. Then given to this reality, is it not sensible for men to raise their voices at this crucial point in time?
The misogynists of Churails in all their nauseating glory are a sorry sight. They play a warning, specifically to men, to resist dehumanization. Shams, Dilbar and Boss on the other hand, signify healthy and functional individuals capable of making genuine contribution to humanity.
By Mahek Khwaja