Sarwat Gilani in 'Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam'
Sarwat Gilani in 'Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam' Image Credit: Zee5

‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’, Zee5’s latest Zindagi Original, is an ode to the on-screen femme fatales of film noir that were prominent features in classic American crime thrillers produced post the Second World War.

Yet, this six-part web series, helmed by British-Indian filmmaker Meenu Gaur and her Pakistani co-writer Farjad Nabi, subverts the noir genre in totality by positioning its unapologetic ladies as anti-heroes, who are neither to be celebrated nor up for moral judgments.

Sanam Saeed Qatil-1642585190366
Sanam Saeed stars in ‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’ Image Credit: Zee5

“What we’re saying [in the show] is that there’s no binary of good and evil; the morality of the universe is established by the person who’s telling the story,” explained Gaur in an interview with Gulf News. “The femme fatale has always been viewed as a bad woman because that’s the morality of the man telling her story. Turn that around, that is tell the story from the fatale’s perspective, and you will know why she’s doing whatever she’s doing, and the morality of the whole story will change.”

Gaur also rejected the noir comparison. “Noir is a westernised concept. So, when we imported it and wanted to give it a local setting, it had to have its own aesthetic and language.”

The result was what she calls “desi noir.”

Meenu-Farjad — File photo from the sets of 7 DIN MOHABBAT IN-1642585202412
British-Indian filmmaker Meenu Gaur and her Pakistani co-writer Farjad Nabi Image Credit: Supplied

Nabi echoed her statment by saying that it was important for them as writers to be familiar with the cinematic language and tone of the original genre in order to customise it.

The show has been making headlines since it began streaming a few weeks ago. Hailed particularly for its expressionistic visual imagery, created by cinematographer Mo Azmi, the show has also commanded attention over its whip-smart dialogue — an amusing blend of street slang, popular contemporary colloquialisms and high-flown Urdu and Punjabi verses — and an evocative soundtrack by Ali Sethi, Saad Hayat and others.

The title track and ‘Ek Qatra’ are penned by Nabi. “Farjad’s first love is writing lyrics,” joked Gaur, while revealing there are 30-odd songs in the album.

Faiza Gillani-1642585207504
Faiza Gillani in ‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’ Image Credit: Zee5

“I and my editor Kamran Shahnawaz created an entire archive [of songs]. I wanted an anachronistic soundtrack. My thought process was largely inspired by the Netflix series, ‘Peaky Blinders’, which is a period drama, but its soundtrack is like the ‘80s pop-rock. Since our storytelling is very classical and poetic, I wanted to bring in music which is very modern and contemporary, be it pop, or fusion, or ghazal.”

All-star cast

Sanam Saeed and Sarwat Gilani in 'Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam'
Sanam Saeed and Sarwat Gilani in 'Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam' Image Credit: Zee5

‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’ is led by an ensemble cast that includes Sarwat Gilani, Eman Suleman, and Meher Bano, top Pakistani performers who’ve become synonymous with strong, fearless, and independent women roles especially post- ‘Churails’ (2020), Zee5’s foremost original series from Pakistan.

They are joined by Sanam Saeed in a stellar role, which is a departure from what she’s portrayed on screen before. Her flashy Zuvi, who dreams of owning a grand art studio, can dupe or kill anyone who comes in the way of her ambition. It’s a role which is diametrically opposed to what we’ve seen her play and Saeed delivers a pitch-perfect performance.

Talking about how she got into the headspace of such a quirky character, Saeed said she would often go back to “Rita Hayworth in ‘Gilda’, or Sharon Stone and Glenn Close, all of whom have played psychotic women, to see how they flesh out such characters.”

Beo Raana Zafar 2-1642585211888
Beo Raana Zafar in 'Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam' Image Credit: Zee5

She also borrowed from life. “We’ve all had moments, in public spaces, of the male gaze stripping us. [So] there’s this anger embedded within us that we’ve learnt to control and go on with life politely, but when you get an opportunity to let loose, it’s pretty easy,” she stated.

“What makes you think a little bit of femme fatale isn’t in all of us?” Gilani piped in. “It was just a matter of tapping into that streak.

She continued: “After ‘Churails’, I realised that it’s very important for women of our age and generation to stand up and take charge. This is the 21st century, and we should not let men decide what women are about.”

She also mentioned movies like ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Memento’ as being good references for the role of the fatale.

Qatil-Haseenaon-Ke-Naam-06-scaled-1 Sarwat-1642585194847
Sarwat Gilani in 'Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam' Image Credit: Zee5

For Suleman, however, thinking too much about the character she’s going to perform is something she avoids doing, because “then I can become mechanical.”

Despite having different processes to connect with their characters, the ladies were unanimous in saying having a female director helped immensely when approaching their roles. “Oh yes, because then you are not dictated by the male perspective. It’s more liberating that way,” stated Saeed

‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’ also features Samiya Mumtaz as Mai Malki, the wronged wife of the lecherous gaddi nasheen (dynastic leader) of a local shrine whose sinister shoes she is forced to step into because the man has gone missing, apparently to escape police capture. Mumtaz’s transformation into one of the three cloaked women (the others being Bano’s Anarkali and Vicky’s Munniya) who make ghostly appearances at key plot points, quite like the three witches in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, is worth a watch.

Eman Suleman-1642585209472
Eman Suleman on the show Image Credit: Zee5

The other star of the show is undoubtedly Faiza Gilani. Her act as the reticent, ageing nurse Kanwal, who succumbs to the charms of a patient with a dubious history (Sheheryar Munawwar in a special appearance), until we discover her secret is a revelation.

Last but not the least, Beo Ranaa Zafar is delightful as Messy Ma, the chain-smoking, curious neighbour who can’t help uncover the dark secret of the couple living next door.

To the show’s credit, even the cameos don’t go unnoticed. Consider, for instance, Shamim Hilaly’s flamboyant and heavily-accented flat mate who keeps peeping out in the street for some spicy gossip, or Gulshan’s Bholi Don who is more effeminate in his mannerisms than his eyelid-batting moll.

Ahsan Khan-1642585218387
Ahsan Khan on the show Image Credit: Zee5

Interestingly, while ‘Qatil Haseenaon Kay Naam’ essentially tears apart patriarchy, it doesn’t paint all men as black. There are glorious exceptions like Balam (played by Asad Ghani), the young barber with stars in his eyes whose sexual orientation can sometimes put him at odds with society. It is obvious why Balam is spared the kind of dreadful fate most male characters in the series meet — because he’s not a villain, though he may be a victim.

Likewise for Ahsan Khan’s Gulab, the bespectacled, shawl-sporting professor of literature with neatly combed mane, who utters profound poetic lines at his day job in school but is a heartless contract killer by night. Again, because he hasn’t offended or hurt a woman yet, he escapes their wrath.

Nabi admitted that this was “part of the design.” He also said that “writing the male characters was as much fun as writing the fatales.”

Meher Bano-1642585200060
Meher Bano on the show Image Credit: Zee5

But, did the female actors ever feel a male writer could create well nuanced characters for them? In Saeed’s opinion, gender doesn’t come into play. “Sometimes the opposite sex understands the opposite sex better, especially when there’s a good connection and deep understanding and you’ve really been around enough women, you’ve been raised by a solid mother and sisters, and you have a fisheye-lens observation of the women in your life. So, a sensitive or intuitive man’s perception of a woman is quite astute, and sometimes far more interesting than how a woman views herself,” Saeed said, while adding: “That said, great writers really observe well, be it a man or a woman.”

However, Suleman disagreed. “I personally think a man can never understand the experience of a woman. However, as much as I’d want more women writers in the field, it’s actually ‘progress’ that men are writing stories about strong women, and they aren’t victimising them,” she weighed in.

On the other hand, Gilani believed that Gaur’s philosophy was of great help. “I could even say that she’s a feminist and at the same time a very balanced director; she wouldn’t want to take away from the men in the series. She’s done justice to each and every character.”

Sanam Saeed-1642585192820
Sanam Saeed on the show Image Credit: Zee5

Meher Bano would give equal credit to streaming platforms like Zee5 for representing the women most faithfully. “For as long as I’ve been doing television, I’ve always felt that women like me, or Eman, or Sanam, or Sarwat, who are strong and have been exposed to a lot of literature and also a lot of trauma, just like any other woman, were never represented well enough. Cinema is already the hero’s medium and women are supposed to be showpieces only. In that sense, I always felt dehumanised. Thankfully, the digital streamers are proving to be game-changers.”

‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’ is set in a fictional part of an interior city somewhere in Pakistan; though, to a native viewer, it comes close to being Lahore’s Walled City. The interior city is the one constant that gives this anthology some geographical unity. The characters who populate the series are all associated in one way or the other with this old neighbourhood. Its mysterious omnipresence adds to the sense of menace that pervades the show.


Don’t miss it!

‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’ is streaming on Zee5