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Even though ‘film noir’ is her favourite genre, Gaur is aware of the stereotypes prevalent in its “sexist” world. The filmmaker focussed on making the genre her own by getting rid of the stereotypes and bringing in the “female gaze” as she built the characters. She even found herself grappling with “some fun questions”, such as “What’s desi noir?”. Even though she tried to find suitable answers to these questions, Gaur had certain clarity from the beginning. “I didn’t want my characters to look as they do in classic noir. So, the question was how does one combine a sari to noir,” says the director about the show, which is currently streaming on Zee5.
Gaur roped in Farjad Nabi, with whom she wrote and co-directed the acclaimed feature film, Zinda Bhaag (2013), to craft the story about a bunch of plucky women driven by love, desire, ambition, revenge, and redemption while navigating a deeply patriarchal society. The six-part series captures noirish moodiness and expressionism as it remains true to the genre in its treatment and tone. Crucial to any ‘classic noir’ is the setting. “Usually, noir is set in suburban, Chinatown-kind of spaces — like urban decay spaces. What’s the equivalent of that in our world? What would give the genuine feel of a crumbling universe? One that is corrupt and falling apart. We knew our own authentic noir had to be set in an old city,” says Gaur. The story of Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam unfolds in a fictional town in Pakistan called Androon Sheher (roughly translates to inner city), where lives of the residents overlap with each other.
Common link to the six episodes of Qaatil Haseenaon Ke Naam is Mai Malki (Mumtaz), who is abandoned by her husband for a younger woman and is often spotted at the local dargah. There are other key characters such as Anarkali, a sex-worker played by Bano; Zafar as Massey Ma who believes that justice must be delivered; Gilani as Mehek who has a weakness for beautiful verses and is trapped in an abusive marriage; and Saeed as Zuvi, an ambitious sculptor who doesn’t hesitate to resort to manipulative ways. Even though several male characters are cruel and manipulative, there are some interesting characters who become allies of women in fulfilling their wishes.
During a video chat, Gilani and Saeed wax eloquent about the look, feel, artwork and soundtrack of the show. They are also thrilled about not playing goody-two-shoes characters. “The audience (in Pakistan) are happy to see some of us actors in a new show as they don’t get to watch us often on television these days. While some of them are excited, some are also surprised to see us in these roles — very badass,” Saeed says and adds “You can’t please everyone. Those who are into the genre really liked it,” says Saeed, who has been part of several successful television shows including Zindagi Gulzar Hai (2012-13).
Prior to the shoot, the team did a few rounds of reading together, besides discussing the scenes a lot on the sets. “It was a great collaborative work. None of us had done this before and we didn’t have any reference. We had to look at strong female characters in Kill Bill (I and II), even Game of Thrones. Everyone offered their two bits and Meenu would listen to all our suggestions,” says Gilani, who says that the show took them back to the era of black-and-white movies featuring glamorous femme fatales.
What Gilani finds most impressive is that the show had a female director presenting the perspectives of these flawed woman characters. The popular television and film actor also enjoyed doing her hair and make-up in the noir style. “The wardrobe and styling really helped me get into the character. I decided to look a few shades darker. I thought that made my character more namkeen,” recalls Gilani, who was one of the lead actors of the much-talked about web series, Churails (2020).
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