Pakistani actor, poet, writer, theatre person – Yasra Rizvi dons many hats and it’s an understatement when we say that she’s equally passionate about all her creative pursuits. Sample her poetry and see for yourself, ‘Kya tum woh shakhs ho, jo iss tarhaan se kehte ho? Yeh soch yeh aankhain, Yeh lehja yeh baatain! Kab se dil mein naqsh ho, Sadion se yahan rehte ho!’ Before you’re mesmerised, let us say that the management student who earned fame as an actor with the TV show Mann Ke Moti later directed the feature film Manto, and has been singlehandedly instrumental in the bringing about a change in the way female characters have been viewed on the small screen in the subcontinent. Churails, her first web show for ZEE5 Global as an actor, is all set to give her the audience she is richly deserving of. In a chat with LetsOTT.com, she tells why the show is a big step forward for Pakistani content.
What about your director, Asim Abbasi, surprised you when you were offered Churails?
Asim Abbasi is very clear about the actors whom he wants to play his characters. I am also particular about it while I write. Honestly, this character just landed in my lap; there was an issue with dates for another project and it was a lucky coincidence that I got to audition and be a part of Churails. I didn’t get so much time to think during the audition but while going through a few pages in Asim’s script, I was witness to the craft in writing that was completely absent from Pakistani television at the moment. I had already watched his first film Cake and I could see how he had progressed by leaps and bounds with his writing for Churails. ‘It was only his second project and he had already come a long way’, was what I thought. I was totally bowled by his skilful writing, which is the backbone for great content. I am a sucker for skilful writing as I am working and learning myself to write and exploring work internationally as well.
We hear the show was wrapped in a four-month gruelling schedule. What were the hardships that you had to entail?
As simple as it may sound, it was really hot, the summers have only gotten warmer in Karachi over the last few years. It was known to be a breezy city but it almost felt like the wind had stopped blowing in our direction for many years now (laughs). And Churails was a story that was always on the move, not only in terms of plot but also in terms of locations. We were always switching from one location to the other and didn’t get time to feel comfortable at a place. Outdoor shoots can get really taxing. The show has an ensemble cast and it wasn’t easy to develop camaraderie with different actors on a daily basis.
Moreover, I’ve had the clearest skin all my life and am known to be lazy; all I can really do is to wash my face – no facials and cleansing for me. I am someone who waits for my slippers to get torn to buy a new pair. I can’t afford vanity and don’t have the heart and the mind for it at all. But my character Jugnu Chaudhry was probably the most glamourous part among all in the show – be it her costumes, styling or her heels. I couldn’t have pulled this off without my production designer and stylist Samya Sarif. Not only did they give me the look but told me how to carry it. There was a lot of falling because of the heels. I fell on the set at least 16-17 times and whenever I fell, I tried my best to totally ignore it and move on. Carrying that makeup, clothes in that heat was next to impossible. To add to my woes, it was the first time I had a breakout on my face. Is that gruelling enough? Haha!
You’ve always made activism an integral part of the stories you’ve written as a writer for your shows on television and theatre. Was that an important factor as you signed Churails too?
I could say that was one of the reasons that compelled me to take up this show. The activism in the story was something I got to know much later though. I have always maintained that I’m a writer in progress and am always looking for opportunities to learn. Churails was one of the rare occasions where I got to read and be in a script written by someone else. Be it direction, writing and acting, the opportunity to work with Asim Abbasi gave me a chance to evolve. Regardless of everything else, I’ll always come back to how craftily he has written this; that was the clincher for me. It was written for a great cause but the quality of the writing was equally sparkling. Even I may have written for important causes in the past, but I wasn’t so impressed with my work. I am not so easy to please and I can vouch that Asim is the best writer of our times (at least in Pakistan).
The best thing about being an actor is getting to fulfil your wildest fantasies through the roles you get. Isn’t it?
I’ll be honest to admit that the show and my character Jugnu Chaudhry have truly taught me how to present myself. It didn’t even care two hoots for my appearance in the past. If there’s anything that I detest about acting, it’s the long hours of doing my hair and makeup. I would have had greater enthusiasm about acting if it wasn’t part of the profession. I take up only one project a year as an actor because it consumes a lot of my energy. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve never had this fantasy to look good. It’s too much work bhai! (bursts into peals of laughter) It’s an integral part of the job at the end of the day and one can’t avoid it.
Do you take up television offers to pay your bills because other avenues like theatre don’t pay you enough (despite the fulfilment it provides)?
Theatre isn’t something we get to do often here and the ‘fulfilment factor’ has been left in the lurch for a long time. If there’s any medium that can help an actor pay his/her bills in Pakistan, it is only television; the film industry is mostly inactive and it was only the previous year that we had begun making content that could reach global quarters partially. But all thanks to ZEE5 Global, it is the first time that we got a serious opportunity to reach such a vast audience through Churails. As far as television goes, I have done limited work, haven’t been paid that greatly but am content with whatever I’ve managed.
The major issue with the theatre circuit in Pakistan is the absence of performance spaces. Karachi is a city with a 2 crore population, but can you believe that it has only three performance spaces? I’ve teamed up with someone who owns a small performance space for a project, but opportunities like these are scarce. People don’t invest in the medium, there are other cultural issues owing to which the theatre actors are not getting to do much. Web series is a breath of fresh air that way, it has given us an alternative beyond television, there’s immense creative freedom to come up with new stories.
The women-led detective agency backdrop is truly wacky and compels us to watch the show all the more…
The backdrop of a covert detective agency is interesting but the depiction is no less fascinating. It’s very well portrayed, beautifully designed. It’s appealing to look and also makes the proceedings more intriguing to watch. When was the last time we saw a detective agency run by women? When did women get to do such interesting professions on the screen? The portrayal of women has always been restricted to them being seen with besan, roti or in the best-case scenario, she is the owner of a big company where you never get to know what is she up to or doing a shady import/export business. Women don’t only run a detective agency in Churails, but you’ll get to see how they spy on people and investigate. It’ll be a fun watch!
Churails features female characters who run a detective agency to catch their cheating husbands. However, in reality, most women are silent sufferers…
I have to be rather blunt in my response to the question. I find it odd when a man says to his lover, ‘I am helpless but I need to break up with you now!’. What makes this ‘helpless’ lot fall in love in the first place? They have no right to be in a relationship. Regardless of the place where one is born or the conditioning he/she is brought up with, everyone has this hidden strength in them to tackle a crisis and march ahead. This is a basic human instinct. We need to be stronger in our tough times; it’s something that doesn’t happen in a day or two, you build on it constantly. There may be a lot of roadblocks and we may get tired of the fight for survival. However, when you’re at odds with the world, it’s important to be thick-skinned. We need to talk to our inner self and analyse if the treatment meted out to us is right or not. One can’t cheat their conscience. It’s important to make a strategy and think who can help you in that hour with tact. Be surrounded by strong people and they’ll be instrumental in helping you discover your strength. One needs to stand up for themselves when the going gets tough; else none can help them.
The digital medium is a leveller in many ways that we have the liberty forget all the cultural and political differences and watch Churails under one roof…
The beauty of the show is that it is to release in 191 countries across the world. I am not only happy that my work as an artist from Pakistan is going to reach so many people, but also it’s an opportunity to tell the world and every woman out there that we’re all the same at the end of the day. Be it happiness or sadness or the way we experience pain, we respond the same way; our concerns are no different. Transgenders are ill-treated in Pakistan and so are they in in other countries too. Women may be slightly behind in fighting for their causes here, yet the fight remains the same everywhere. Neither are all men vile nor are all women good in our show; you’ll realise it as you watch it. All kinds of men and women exist in Churails. Some men lend a helping hand to women and some women turn out to be a pain in the lives of their women counterparts; the show isn’t merely women-centric but extremely close to reality too. Churails doesn’t malign any gender. The story is about the fight for truth and what’s right; none of the genders is a target group here. The characters are universal.
Are you curious about how Churails would be received?
When I finish working on a project, I generally remain detached about it. I really like the making of a show, being on the set more than anything else. I love the process. When so many layers are added to our performances during the post-production and ultimately it’s released to audiences, the show is no longer ours alone. It’s for the crowds to decide if they like it or not and I am not nervous about it at all. Never in the past have I had the scope to promote my show or performance on this scale. It’s only because of ZEE5 Global and Zindagi that we are able to tap into unchartered territories and promote it with zest; their team comes up with posters, quirky captions for us to post and line up our interviews with such precision. It’s not an easy job but they’re doing their job with great passion.