The first thing that strikes you as you enter Veena Malik’s house in DHA Lahore is the silence… and let’s face it, silence is not something you associate with the feisty beauty. The serenity surrounding her residence is at odds with shrill war of words that the actor’s boldness and behaviour has sparked in Pakistan.
Right now there seem to be two types of people in the land of the pure: those who adore Malik for her defiance and those who would like to see her lynched for her over-the-top attitude. In her first television interview after returning from her stint on “Bigg Boss” in India, Malik took on both the anchor Kamran Shahid and Mufti Abdul Qavi , both of whom seemed bent upon dragging her through the mud for the ‘shame’ her behaviour in India apparently caused the nation. Her spirited defence of her behaviour may have got her detractors up in arms but has also struck a chord with many others who now see her as the poster girl for free speech and expression. Drawing rooms, news channels and online forums are all abuzz with Veena Malik fever, with Pakistan’s Twitteratti making her one of the top ten Twitter trends worldwide on the day the interview aired.
Only a few weeks ago, Malik’s conduct in the Indian reality show “Bigg Boss” was causing outrage in Pakistan, with the perpetually indignant moral police decrying everything she did, from her flirtation with Indian contestant Ashmit Patel to the clothes she wore, loudly proclaiming that Malik’s ‘shameless’ conduct had dragged Pakistan’s otherwise pristine reputation through the mud. But rather than backtrack, go underground or take the abuse lying down, Malik fought back. Live. And on national television. At one point, she questioned the sense of making a big deal out of her behaviour in a TV show when there were so many other problems in the country. At another, she took the mufti to task for allegedly rampant child abuse in madrassas.
“I am not a coward and can’t act like one,” says Malik as she gets ready for a candid chat on a chilly Lahore afternoon. “I hail from an army family and bravery is in my blood.” But this defiance does not come without a price. “All my friends have left me,” says Veena sadly. “I only have the support of my family, and though some people support me, others expect me to apologise for my behaviour in “Bigg Boss.”
Dressed in casual trousers and a t-shirt, Malik looks relaxed, ensconced in a sofa and sipping coffee from a huge mug. But tension is very much in the air. Private security guards stand sentry outside her house and a maid bustles around protectively. “I have hired the services of a private security company and don’t go out without letting them know,” she says. Much like the reality show participants confined to the “Bigg Boss” house, Malik is still restricted in her movements and cannot go out of her house freely.
“I don’t feel threatened but yes, I am upset with some people’s behaviour. These few people are not the real Pakistan. I just want them to understand that I represent the entertainment industry of this country. Let me grow. Let me go places as an ambassador of this country’s entertainment industry. If the handful of people condemning me don’t let me grow, I will go into politics and rule this country,” warns Malik.
So what kind of political slot will she go for? MPA? Senator? Minister?
“I would like to be the President of Pakistan, even if I am asked to pick the presidency of any country in the world,” she says. At least Obama can rest easy… for now.
Recounting her “Bigg Boss” experience, she claims the hostility shown to her by the other residents of the house was nothing but professional jealousy: “When Pamela Anderson declared that I was the one contestant she would like to stay in touch with once she returned to Hollywood, the other participants couldn’t digest it and started nursing grudges against me.” Well others might succumb to the green-eyed monster, but our own desi dish has loftier goals.
“Pamela is interested in doing social work in Pakistan. With her support, I’d like to work on a clean drinking water project for marginalised communities. Pamela brought water filters – each of which cost $50 – with her from the US and we can work out how to use them here in Pakistan. I am already working with the World Health Organization on some projects. Pamela plans to visit Pakistan once I extend an invitation but right now I can’t say anything until things here settle down. Ashmit Patel also wants to come here and help children with thalessemia. This was one of the reasons that we became good friends on the show,” Malik says enthusiastically. But that ‘friendship’ also led to charges of indecency. What does Veena have to say about that?
“Decency isn’t just about clothes, it’s about behaviour. Look at my body language in the show. I never abused anybody. My anger was at its peak when I said ‘Dolly jee, aap aurat kay naam par ek cartoon ho,’ but even then I didn’t use any abusive words. I promoted Urdu there and even Salman Khan said ‘Veena Jee has taught Urdu to Hindustan.’ I didn’t wear shalwar kameez and that I don’t even wear at home – Pakistani culture is not limited to the shawlar kameez. Besides I represented the entertainment industry of Pakistan,” says Malik.
Sharing her memories of “Bigg Boss,” Malik smilingly says, “It was a beautiful house and we had a lot of fun. The clippings aired made it look like we only quarrelled while in fact we had a really good time. I cooked for everyone at that house. In fact, I was the only celebrity over there who could cook well.”
So apart from notoriety, what did she get out of “Bigg Boss”? “I have an offer to host a show on an Indian television channel during the upcoming cricket world cup. I have also turned down several scripts that were offered to me and people from the UK, US, Australia and India are approaching me for projects. I have accepted some offers but cannot reveal them right now. One thing is for sure though, whatever I do in the future is going to be bigger than “Bigg Boss,”” says Malik.
Where Veena Malik is thankful to liberal people in Pakistan for supporting her, she has a serious gripe with the Pakistani media. “When I went into “Bigg Boss,” the media here said I would be out in few days but I stayed there for 12 weeks. When Sameer Soni went on Indian TV saying he wanted to slap me, only one newspaper highlighted the issue. When Shilpa Shetty became the target of racial discrimination in “Big Brother” she was unanimously supported by the Indian media but very few voices from our media came in my favour.”
Still, amid the disappointment, she also holds out hope for the future.
“The youth is my hope and I trust young people to change people’s perceptions about Pakistan,” says Malik. “My media spokesman, Sohail Rashid, is a young man. Many seniors wanted to be my publicist but I trusted Sohail for this job because he is young and energetic.”
Veena Malik, who is keen to do new things, is quite fond of high heels and has a large collection of them at home. The heels even travelled with her to the “Bigg Boss” house where they became the subject of many jokes from the contestants.
“I started working when I was in Class 10 but my showbiz career really took off when I was in third year of university. My family wanted me to marry, but I wanted to do something more. In 2003, I signed up for several movies and shifted to Lahore,” she says.
Living in India for so many weeks has also given her a new perspective on the state of Lollywood, and also on what she says are our double-standards. “While we make a movie that costs Rs10 million, the Indians spend Rs100 million or more. Their entertainment industry is much bigger than ours and we should support our actors and artists who try to make a name in the Indian industry. When a male actor or singer works in India, people don’t mind but when a female actor goes to India, some people in Pakistan make it an issue. This attitude needs to change. Don’t speak against Veena Malik or any other female star just because she is a soft target”.
So if Lolly-Bolly cooperation is the way to go, what are the chances for a Pakistani “Bigg Boss”? Well, Veena has her choices already picked: Pervez Musharraf, Sheikh Rashid, Jamsheed Dasti, Bal Thackeray, Nargis, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Ashwariya Rai, Meera and Britney Spears. And that’s not all: “I’ll make this show even funnier and spicier by taking Dolly Bindra from Bigg Boss 4. The very thought of this show tickles me. I’d love to see the dynamics between Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Nargis!” she adds.
Love her or hate her, you just can’t ignore her. With Veena Malik now a household name, fans and foes alike will be sitting in nail-biting suspense to see what new controversy she lands herself in. With offers not only from film producers but also, reportedly, several political parties, Veena will be making waves wherever she goes.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 30th, 2011.