Jan 9, 2007

Pakistani talk show host stretching boundaries

The New York Times recently published an interesting article about Ali Saleem, (a guy) who dresses up as a woman and hosts a TV talk show. The lady he portrays is named Begum Nawazish Ali. (Begum means Madam in Urdu)

The show is a big hit, and though this is the first time I've heard about him, my friends back home say he's quite popular and that his success is well warranted. Why is this so newsworthy you may ask? From the NYTimes.com...
Ali Saleem may have devised the perfect, if improbable, cover for breaking taboos in conservative, Muslim Pakistan. In a country where publicly talking about sex is strictly off limits, Mr. Saleem has managed not only to bring up the subject on his prime-time television talk show — but to do so without stirring a backlash from fundamentalist Islamic clerics.

And he has done so as a woman.

When Mr. Saleem takes to the airwaves, he is Begum Nawazish Ali, a coquettish widow who interviews Pakistan’s glitterati and some of its top politicians.

A real woman could not possibly do what Mr. Saleem does. In the unlikely event a station would broadcast such a show, the hostess would be shunned. And taking on the guise of a married woman — whose virtue is crucial to her whole family — would be equally impossible.

But apparently a cross-dressing man pretending to be a widow is another matter entirely.
Its great that he's popular, and I hope this show continues to gain attention and fanfare within the country. I posted this story because in this day and age, no day goes by without Pakistan not being mentioned in the world media. Its a strategic country and the past few years have really propelled it into the limelight - for reasons both good and bad, mostly the latter. So if Pakistan is truly on the path to secularization and liberalization, as we are being led to believe, then Ali Saleem's shows is a small step towards that goal.

Though a good sign, the show is in fact an indicator, of the chasm in Pakistani society. Even while I lived there, I felt the deep disconnect between the urbanites and the rural communities, which the author mentions. In fact, there is no real way of telling just how many rural communities watch this show. Perhaps its just driven completely by the urbanite viewers and that word hasn't spread to the rest of the country yet.
It is true that Pakistan is, in a sense, two countries. There is urban, and urbane, Pakistan, where Western mores are more accepted, although nudity would never be seen on television or scantily clad women on billboards. And then there is rural Pakistan, where Islam is generally practiced with more fervor.
As far as the show goes, though Mr. Saleem is very confidant of his shows continuity, its quite possible that its popularity will breed opposition. I sincerely hope that may not be the case.

1 comment:

  1. hey dawg, man I'm sorry but there is far too much hype surrounding Begum Nawazish Ali as some taboo breaking pioneer. Cross dressing has been in our culture for centuries and Moin Akhter and Anwer Mawsood have been making risque jokes and double entendres since back in the 80's. They were far more witty and tasteful. At best, Ali Saleem is entertaining but at worst he's just feeding off the shock value of having a convincing cross dresser on T.V. His/her references to sex are actually kind tired and boring. Maybe that's why the mullahs haven't shut him down yet. Far from being pioneering, its actually rather tame television. He gets more hype from being a socialite than actually being a T.V. personality.