Mumbai, Jul 30 (PTI) Cultural exchanges, perhaps because of their high visibility, are the first to be sacrificed when India and Pakistan ties hit a rough patch, says Pakistani filmmaker Asim Abbasi whose new TV show “Churails” will soon be seen in India.
Abbasi, who believes institutional politics must be kept away from art, will showcase his drama on Zindagi, which returns next month on ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s digital platform ZEE5 after four years.
'Cultural exchange is always (sacrificed) because it's so prominent, visible. When you cut its cord, everyone will notice. The public will know something massive has been done and we have disconnected with the other nation,” Abbasi told PTI over phone from London.
'That's why the exchange of artistic talents always gets sacrificed between these things. It's unfortunate. I wish we could keep institutional politics separate from art,' added the director of the acclaimed film “Cake”.
Though there is no official ban, Pakistani artistes were barred from working in Indian films and music in the aftermath of the terror attack on an army base in Uri in 2016. This prompted India to launch a surgical strike on terror launch pads in Pakistan.
In the days that followed, Fawad Khan’s role in Karan Johar’s film “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” was the centre of a storm and Bollywood producers have since avoided working with actors from across the border.
The situation worsened after the Pulwama terror attack last year, with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) asking even music companies to stop working with Pakistani singers.
Cutting cultural ties between the two nations is 'sad', said Abbasi.
Though India and Pakistan have 'grown together and grown apart', what binds them is the love for good storytelling, he said.
'We have bonded over storytelling. Our emotional highs and lows are similar. Though I'm a huge fan of foreign cinema, their emotional highs and lows are very different than the whole subcontinent. What India lacked was the limited series culture, which Pakistan had... Similarly, we had a broken cinema system and Bollywood fulfilled that role for us,' he said.
A large section of the Indian audience discovered Pakistani dramas such as “Humsafar” and “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” on Zee's Zindagi channel which also syndicated content from other countries, including Brazil, South Korea and Turkey.
The channel, which launched in 2014, dropped the Pakistani shows in 2016 and subsequently shut down.
Abbasi's 'Churails'— Pakistan's first webseries and produced by ZEE -- will be Zindagi's debut offering and is scheduled to premiere on August 11.
He hopes the re-launch of Zindagi will eventually lead to additional 'cross cultural collaboration', where talents of both the nations get to work together.
'We want the exchanges to flourish because it'll result in more content for everyone. You and I are having this conversation because it has been facilitated by ZEE5 coming to the forefront and justifying their tagline- 'Milke jeeyenge'.' “Churails”, based in Karachi, narrates the story of four self-proclaimed 'churails' (witches), who unite to open a covert detective agency to expose cheating husbands among the city's elite.
According to Abbasi, the story is about women who have experienced oppression, have been turned down and never given their rights.
'It is about the coming together of these women who have carved a space for themselves, live their life on their own terms, and do for the oppressed women what law can't do.' The journey of 'Churails' started after the massive success of his debut feature 'Cake'—Pakistan's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars — with Abbasi building the narrative as a film. “Cake” is available in India on Netflix.
Abbasi decided to convert the story of “Churails” into a series as he did not want to run the risk of facing the wrath of the censor board or compressing the story in a movie.
A call from representatives from ZEE5 came right in time for Abbasi, who pitched the series and completed the writing process within eight months.
Shot in Karachi—with few sequences in London—'Churails' continues the filmmaker's efforts to chronicle women-centric stories for the screen.
The director said he didn't set out to make a series about 'empowerment.' 'But it is empowering to see women carving space for themselves, especially from the subcontinent and saying, 'enough.' It is sad that what makes a woman empowering... is just being able to say 'no'.' 'Cake' was essentially a story about a dysfunctional family but the women characters in the movie stood out.
Abbasi said his fascination for narrating female stories can be traced to the short films he made in the beginning of the last decade which 'formed the groundwork” of his thinking.' While 'Once A Man' was about dementia and ageing—which was the groundwork for 'Cake'—, 'Whore' was about doubting a partner and rape. His other short, 'Little Red Roses', was about bulimia and a super model coming to terms with her body.
'Not enough women filmmakers have been given the opportunity to make films about themselves. I want to be their ally. I don't want to tell stories of the alpha-aggressive male hero that everyone is telling in cinema.' Much of this also comes from the director's growing up years in Pakistan—he shifted to the UK after turning 18—where he was surrounded by strong, independent women.
'I had a very soft father, completely the opposite of the alpha parental figure you'd expect. My mother is sometimes rude, blunt, obnoxious and very similar to the mother in 'Cake'. I have four sisters; I am the only brother and the youngest.
'I grew up with these multiple mothers and got married to a strong woman, who had a strong mother as well. I've been blessed to see these women but then I also saw other women who are not in the same boat. Who are oppressed, living on the margins of society.' 'Churails', Abbasi said, is his attempt to reach out to them. PTI JUR BK MIN MIN MIN MIN