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Saturday, 22 April 2006
The late night show with Begum Nawazish Ali

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.  But he is now facing an altogether different foe: the cross-dressing son of a retired colonel.

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.

I remember a Pakistani colleague telling me about a family wedding where the local transvestite entertainers turned up (often uninvited, and they had to be paid to go away, sometimes welcome and considered fun and traditional) and he pondered why their antics were tolerated when any banter between men and women was forbidden. This was at the time when the Hudud laws had just been re-enacted.

It makes Dame Edna and Mrs Merton ("Tell me Debbie, what first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?") look very ordinary.  Although I think Granny Kumar would be up to it.

And I bet his hair doesn't cost £275 a day either!

Posted on 04/22/2006 7:35 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
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