Sunday, August 1, 2010

Out Spotlight

Today's Out Spotlight has described himself as gay, bisexual and sometimes a transsexual. Born male he is most famous as a female, and in a country were it is unexpected and even allowed. Today's Spotlight is Ali Saleem.

Ali Saleem is best known by his alter-ego Begum Nawazish Ali, from Pakistani television. Saleem has been a host, actor, scriptwriter and impressionist, breaking into the mainstream through his impersonations of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

His alter ego has now become his primary persona as he rarely appears as Ali Saleem.

Saleem was born in Islamabad to a Pakistani Army colonel and his wife, a government official, and into a well off life. Never wanting for anything money could by, this was one thing missing for young Saleem. Even from an early age, he desired and fantasized about being a woman. As a teen he got the opportunity to do a play where he got to play a part in a burka. It was that monologue that allowed the audience to see his inner female. So taken by the performance the audience would ask in almost disbelief of how a boy could impersonate a older woman.

Saleem's real breakthrough came when he started imitating his childhood heroine, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, from the way she talked to the way she dressed. So loved were his performances that Bhutto herself asked Ali to impersonate her. Bhutto not know for having a sense of humor, burst out in laughter at his performance of her.

During the divorce of his parents, he came Karachi. It was there where he came to meet with Imran Aslam, a political satire writer who would tell him of a television channel in the pipeline, that would later be called Geo TV. His Bhutto impressions which were now famous among his friends and Imran told him to take put on the air with this new channel. The first time Saleem did it for a television audience it was for a show dealing with political humor during elections in Pakistan. The show named Hum Sub Umeed Se Hain (idiomatically translated as We Are All Expecting (Pregnant), but meant to translate as We Are All Hopeful) showed people impersonating the election candidates.

He knew that this act could not go on forever, and that he would need to do more if he wanted to continue in the business. It was from this very first act that he gained the nickname BB (for Benazir Bhutto) or bibi meaning lady in Urdu. Friend, Omar Adil, a physician by training who had extensive research into Pakistani cinema and ties to many TV channels in Pakistan suggested to him the idea of having a drag character as a host for a talk show. Begum Nawazish and Late Night with Begum Nawazish was born.

Begum Nawazish was a wealthy socialite living off the money of her late husband who was killed in the Army. The show's premise was two invited influential guests would come to chat and find themselves answering very provocative questions by this hostess dressed in her beautiful saris. Businessmen, industrialists, actors,actresses, government and religious leaders would find their way to the couch, and male guests would find Begum flirting with "suggestive banter and sexual innuendo".

It must be remember this is Pakistan which is a Islamic country. It's just this use of gestures and acts that has earned him a reputation amongst the fundamentalist religious leaders of Pakistan while winning over the younger less fundamental generation.

No real woman could do on TV what Saleem did. If any woman would do such a thing, she would be shunned. Talking about "sex" or even innuendo in Pakistan is strictly off-limits. Yet there was no backlash. Women in Pakistan say that they are still afraid to do what he did on the show, but somehow a cross-dressing man pretending to be a widow talking about it is fine.

It wasn't just sex and sexuality where Saleem has pushed the envelope. Where television talk shows in Pakistan are extremely reluctant to criticize the military backed Pakistani government, alter ego Begum has always been openly critical of a general seated as a president.

Because of this former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf opposed to the show, which led to the temporary end. After that, a Indian network offered an opportunity for Saleem to create a follow-up of the show under the name Begum for Indian television. The reformatted show had 26 episodes with Indian celebrities.

It remains a mystery how a man who openly acknowledges he is bisexual is a sensation in Pakistan."Traditional Islamic teachings rejects bisexuals and gays, and gay Pakistanis have few outlets for a social life. The gay party scenes in Lahore and Karachi are deep underground." He openly "sprinkles his conversation with gender-bending phrases. 'My life fluctuates between two extremes,' he says. 'I always say this: I am a man and I am a woman. It is two gender extremes, and I am constantly trying to balance it.'”


Morbidly Moist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
faith said...

Great post! So interesting yet sad and hopeful to read about gay life in other countries.

the real m said...

Amazing how good he looks as a woman. Back in the late 80's, when I was working in SF, we had a male, gay employee who always dressed as a woman for Halloween. He was breathtakingly beautiful as a woman. He was from the Philippines, had a slight build and exotic face. Unfortunately we lost him to AIDs but I can still see him and how beautiful he looked.

AUS10 said...

Oh god. They're using hans zimmer #inception-like music on #sharkweek. #sharkception
7 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

#sharkweek. I wish sharks could tweet. #sharktweet
22 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

destiny said...

I would love to know more about how he is able to be so open about being bisexual.

As for what gender he identifies with, it seems like I've read that in some countries where you wouldn't expect it, while they reject homosexuality, they do allow people to change their gender through surgery, etc.

Twitter Inc. said...

I wish sharks could tweet.

Yeah but every time you'd delete one of their tweets it would grow back.

OnwardSoldiers said...


Holy shit. Just saw #onwardsoldiers. !!!!!!! Incredible band. Check em out. They are going to do very well!!!!
6 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®


I am a Baron on Crowdrise AND I got to see #OnwardSoldiers!? Best Sunday EVER! If you don't have the Onward Soldiers album you need it!
8 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Crowdrise said...

"Awesome, caring, empathetic thoughts of goodwill. We are so proud & impressed with you. Don't let any of our second offspring's less than stellar traits infect you (joke, he's got great traits, as well). Keep setting those goals high. If you aim for the stars (and miss), you still have a chance to hit the moon. Hope to see you soon. Dave & Kay"

DONOR: Kay & David Nichols

Crowdrise Sophia Bush

Special K said...

Well it's beats sitting next to your son's fake makeout in Italy. Less the ewww factor. And Mama and Papa N get points for a very carefully constructed comment.

SK: Hates all women, including herself said...

LOL!!Poor SK, jealous, nasty, spiteful, bitter and immature. His parenst should be givien points for supporting a good cause, period.

They have more of a productive and interesting life than you will ever have

Special K said...

Hi Jack - on your way to work?

:( said...

Poor hausfrau, they think AN's parents are in on the conspiracy too. Bitter old hags who have to resort to going to Adam Lambert gigs to feel sexy. What a classic!

Special K said...

Don't think your fooling anyone Jack, it's still you.

ohmiohmy said...

Looks like Austin stayed local this weekend. No mysterious disappearing act. That poor Baby. Daddies are out drinking and taking in local music festivals, and grandparents are speaking in tongues.

tommy flanagan said...

Looks like Austin stayed local this weekend. No mysterious disappearing act.Yeah, that's what happened! Daddies are out drinking and taking in local music festivals, and grandparents are speaking in tongues. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Methodical Muser said...

...they think AN's parents are in on the conspiracy too..

Of course, Austin's parents know all about "the arrangement." Ted has mentioned, on several occasions, that Jake's family knows too. You couldn't pull off something like they have been doing for years, without scripted facilitation from family and trusted friends. Bearding is a group contact sport that requires not just inspiration, but coordination.

And yes, Special, I noticed how carefully worded that parental statement was. I'm sure Austin's Mom and Dad couldn't wait to publicly join them on twitter just so they could acknowledge Soapypoo's "altruistic" endeavors. Their telephone must have been on the mend. *rolls eyes*

Morbidly Moist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Methodical Muser said...

Looks like Austin stayed local this weekend

Not necessarily. Of course, Austin is back on Sunday, he has to work. And, OnwardSoldiers, played on Sunday night. So what? Moreover, it's pretty easy to mention a band that's playing in your area and say you went to their concert, even though you may not have. Why do you think these two suddenly activated these twitter accounts? Simple. To manipulate their comings and goings and create their own storylines. That's why Soapy piggybacks on Austin's tweets. If these two "lovebirds" lived together why would they be communicating with each other via twitter? We really need to improve our educational system in this country if people are buying this unbelievably lame attempt at romantic bliss.

destiny said...

Soapy. LOL, I love it M and M.

I thought Austin caught a plane on Thursday. He joked about going to Detroit not Brazil, I doubt that was really where he was going. And poor old Soapy seems to have gone to a Chelsea Handler show in Raleigh over the weekend, no mention of Austin. Hhmmm, we need a name for him to pair up with Soapy.

Jake said...

Hhmmm, we need a name for him to pair up with Soapy.

Mr. Bubble's taken.

destiny said...

Soapy is such a great name: the soap opera reference, washing away the gay, soap in the mouth because they really need to scrub away those lies.

So, what can we call Austin. Brushy? Dishy?

destiny said...

LOL Jake.

destiny said...

Soapy and Mr. Dish?