In its fifth recorded instance of censorship in 2020, ZEE5 has pulled Pakistani TV show Churails from its country of origin, Dawn reported. ZEE5 released Churails, a show that “revolves around four young women who form a secret detective agency under the guise of a fashion store,” per an official description. ZEE5 said the takedown was due to “a directive that we received”, and that it has now reinstated the show in Pakistan. Reuters reported on Thursday night that the block came after a letter (as opposed to a directive or order) from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.
Asim Abbasi, the show’s writer and director, indicated on Twitter that the show may have been removed “because it is wrongly perceived by some as a moral threat”.
In a statement to MediaNama, a spokesperson for ZEE5 said, “Our aim has always been to create content that resonates strongly with viewers across the globe. Churails has been a phenomenal success story for us and has been lauded and loved the world over. The show was taken off the platform in Pakistan purely in compliance with a directive that we received. We have now addressed the matter and reinstated the show on our platform.” It is unclear how ZEE5 “addressed” the matter. We have reached out for further clarity.
How strange for #Churails to be lauded internationally, and now be shut down in its country of origin. In the very country where hundreds of artists came together to create something that could initiate dialogue and open doors for new narratives. (1)
— Asim Abbasi (@IllicitusProduc) October 7, 2020
What ZEE5 has censored in 2020
This is the fifth instance of censorship on ZEE5 in 2020. In June, the streaming service suspended plans to release the Tamil show Godman following BJP politician Subramanian Swamy bringing up the matter with Subhash Chandra, the chair of Zee’s parent company Essel. The same month, ZEE5 joined ALT Balaji in removing a scene from an episode of the show XXX: Uncensored, which depicted a military official’s wife making her lover wear her husband’s uniform. In August, ZEE5 removed a sketch of an Indian independence activist from the wanted board in a police procedural show. In September, the company again joined ALT Balaji in editing a show to rename a fictional hostel that shared the first name of Ahilyabai Holkar, an 18th century Maratha ruler. I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar is said to have personally intervened to get the show censored, which was revealed by BJP MP Dr. Vikas Mahatme in Parliament last month.
Zee and Pakistani content
This is not the first time ZEE5 has demonstrated an awkward relationship with Pakistani content. While India and Pakistan are geopolitical adversaries, Pakistani shows have enjoyed the kind of viewership that is comparable to popularity of Korean dramas in Japan — both countries are also frequently at odds. Zee wanted to cash in on this phenomenon, and launched the channel Zindagi to do so.
But in the aftermath of a campaign against Pakistani actors working in India in 2016, Zee pulled Pakistani content from the channel. Subhash Chandra then said that Zindagi would instead make shows focusing on the Indian Muslim community. That does not appear to have happened, as we noted in 2017, when the channel itself was shut down. But Zee evidently still wishes to benefit from the Zindagi brand and its association with Pakistani dramas, as shown by its release of Churails in August under that brand — but it seems to want to do so only online, and not in Pakistan itself.
Update (October 9, 10:21am): The post has been updated with a statement by a ZEE5 spokesperson and information from a report by Reuters.