Pakistan’s top talk diva: actually a dude
Ali Saleem is just your average, Pakistani bisexual son of a retired Army colonel who likes to dress like a woman and interview celebrities and newsmakers on TV. He’s also South Asia’s first drag queen talk diva, who has made quite a name for himself over the last eight months with his Late Night Show ...
Ali Saleem is just your average, Pakistani bisexual son of a retired Army colonel who likes to dress like a woman and interview celebrities and newsmakers on TV. He’s also South Asia’s first drag queen talk diva, who has made quite a name for himself over the last eight months with his Late Night Show with Begum Nawazish Ali (via Glasshouse). It’s kind of like where Ali G meets Rupaul. In an interview with Pakistan’s Newsline, Saleem says:
The Begum is an expression of me as a woman. She is a socialite, very sweet yet bitchy. Being a drag she can get away with a lot…. If they hate the concept of a man dressed up as a woman then they need to grow up.
Who’s “they,” you ask? The Pakistanis who say the show is out of tune with their values. Here’s a taste of what the show is about:
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.’
General/President Pervez Musharraf’s government has threatened to take the show off the air, even though his de-regulation of the media market is what spawned the channel AAJ (Urdu/Hindi for “today”) on which the show appears.
Saleem has told the Associated Press that he/she has been received pretty well, even after people realize he’s not really a woman. “Not a single piece hate mail or a threatening call….Now people greet me on streets and show me love and respect.”
I’ve taken about 120 seconds to watch this episode of the show, and it’s not very funny. It’s actually a little weird. And I actually understand the Urdu, so that’s not the problem.
Anyway, I guess I have to make a point: It’s not all that surprising that a cross-dressing man doesn’t raise too many heckles in Pakistan. Drag queen style isn’t alien to Pakistan or India. Hijras have been around for ages. Check out this piece on Pakistan’s hijras:
At first glance, Hijras [the Urdu word for “hermaphrodites”—WPR] are men in women’s clothing. So, they must be transvestites, right? No. Most Western transvestites prefer women as sexual partners, are often married, and only dress in women’s clothing now and then, often in secret. Hijras, on the other hand, function in society only as women, and their partners are men or other Hijras. So, what are the Hijras? Farrah, born Ahmed, around 35 years of age and a Hijra for the last 20 years, explains, “We are neither men nor women. We have men’s bodies and women’s souls.”
Wikipedia’s entry covers most of what you’d want to know.
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