Sunday, April 23, 2006

Get a Life Guys!

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’

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.'

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.

As the UK
Telegraph reports:

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.

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.

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.


Edward Ott said...

how this managed to get on the air in pakistan in the first place is a good question. has the show done anything specific that is now bringing down the censors?

Onlooker said...

I suppose it started as light hearted fun but then 'Begum Nawazish' developed her persona further and the show took on its own momentum.

The Pakistan 'Establishment' allows the English press to let steam out (but does still insist on killing stories it doesn't like simply by phoning the Editor's office). The same doesn't apply to the mass circulation Urdu press, where the controls are much more rigid.

So it is all about 'protecting' the larger public (as opposed to the English speaking 'elite') from exposure to anti-Establishment viewpoints.

In this TV programme's case, I suspect the authorities woke up to it a bit late. It is only when it became a mass appeal show that Islamabad's alarm bells started to ring.

Why the attempt at censorship? Probably because 'Begum Nawazish' pokes fun at everything including the pomposities of the 'Establishment'.

I don't for a moment believe that the attempted ban has anything to do with the cross-dressing element of the show. Though in all likelihood it will be used as a pretext.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

I'm a journalist from Canada interested in the story.

Is this a mass appeal show? Is it done in Urdu? Have authorities been successful in clamping down?

Anonymous said...

A foreigner speaks...To those Pakistanis who drools over Begum Nawazish - coming from a foreigner, read below part of my comment posted to t.v and newspaper editors on 6th June 2007. This message was my 3rd attempt to the media to reawaken men into knowing their roles as caliph on this earth. With Begum Nawazish departure Lord has answered my prayers...alhamdulilah!
Among other matters in regards to Begum Nawazish that I had written to the media was...

"...The attempt of showing t.v presenters baring arms by some t.v station is no solution to educate the public esp. the ladies. Promoting transexual t.v program presenters (Begum N..) is not in line with Islamic image of this good country.

Common sense will tell the effort of secularism in promoting obscenities are provocative acts which will only stir more rebels into join Lal Masjid..."

My advise to Pakistanis - Wake UP! Your role on earth is not just 'play and fun'. Afterall, Pakistan is an "Islamic Republic..." What a shame