In the short eight or so months since AAJ television began airing "The Late Show with Begum Nawazish Ali" the host of the show has been propelled to instant fame and become the leading television personality in Pakistan.
For those who don’t know much about Begum Nawazish Ali, an explanation is necessary. She is in fact a cross-dressing 27 year-old guy by the name of Salim Ali who seems to enjoy donning flashy saris and sleeveless low-cut blouses while he purrs and flirts with his guests. In the process he has managed to captivate Pakistan by often asking questions other TV hosts would not dare or could not ask without risking their jobs.
Salim Ali is so adept at his assumed persona that even that perpetually randy, near octogenarian Ghulam Mustafa Khar fell for Begum Nawazish’s charms and began openly flirting with her during his televised interview. Watching him, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he wasn’t hoping for a more private rendezvous with the hostess later on. Someone ought to tell the old lecher to get a new set of spectacles.
The UK Guardian calls Salim Ali ‘The chat show queen of Pakistan’
But now it appears our stern Chowkidar custodians of the state have expressed their disapproval and have threatened to take the programme off the air.
By day Ali Salim has stubble, scruffy jeans and a taste for cigarettes. But at night he pulls on a sequinned sari and high heels to become Begum Nawazish Ali - catty chatshow queen and South Asia's first cross-dressing TV presenter. 'She's every woman's inspiration and every man's fancy,' smiles 27-year-old actor Salim, his nails painted gold and his eyebrows plucked after filming the latest episode of Late Night with Begum Nawazish Ali, Pakistan's answer to Dame Edna Everage.
His creation - a snobby, gossipy, middle-aged woman who flirts with her guests and flashes her dead husband's jewels - has captivated a young audience eager for satire of Pakistan's staid politicians and unafraid of sexual ambivalence. Politicians, showbusiness people and even Islamic leaders crowd on to her velveteen couch for conversation that veers from sympathetic to smutty to downright bitchy.
The show pushes the boundaries of the acceptable - and, critics say, the tasteful - in conservative Pakistani society. In one recent episode Ali sneered at the lipstick worn by an actress, then turned to Aitzaz Ehsan, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer. 'Would you mind if I call you "easy"?' she purred, batting her eyelids. 'It's so much easier on the tongue.'
Another guest was Naimatullah Khan, a former Karachi mayor and member of the Jamaat Islami party. The white-bearded Islamist appeared on the show seated beside a leading model. 'I'm trying to show that we can all connect,' says Salim at the Aaj television studios in Karachi, Pakistan's bustling largest city. 'At the end of the day it's like a threesome - it's an awesome time.'
As the UK Telegraph reports:
Obviously it is not the cross-dressing that irks the boys in Islamabad. After all it was the all powerful intelligence agencies themselves who in the recent past bestowed Sindh with a chief minister who also loved donning saris.
How Pakistan's 'Dame Edna' has upset Musharraf
By Isambard Wilkinson in Karachi
Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, has tussled with Islamist terrorists, fundamentalist mullahs and liberal intellectuals in the struggle to shape Pakistan's identity.
Ali Saleem, 27, has shot to fame as the most famous television personality in the predominantly Muslim, male-dominated country by donning a silk sari and adopting the alter ego of a flirtatious widow hosting a chat show.
Such is the popularity of Late Night Show With Begum Nawazish Ali, that Pakistan's military leadership has threatened to take the programme off air.
The Begum [the honorific in Urdu for Mrs] has ruffled feathers in a country where, despite the existence of a marginalised group of transsexuals that performs at weddings and birth blessings, cross-dressing is generally frowned upon.
"We decided to create a larger-than-life character to host a talk show where the host would be flirtatious and look good so she would be on a strong footing with her guests," said Mr Saleem.
Posing controversial questions that journalists routinely steer clear of, Pakistan's Dame Edna Everage tackles taboos as a routine.
He questions prominent Islamic religious figures, celebrities and politicians on issues such as Pakistan's support for the US-led war on terror, Gen Musharraf's dictatorship and discrimination against women.
The show is at risk simply because of some of the awkward questions Salim Ali ends up asking in front of a viewing audience that runs into millions.