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Veena Malik's Blatant Act of Defiance

Pakistani actress Veena Malik (Urdu: ويتا ملک, born Zahida Malik), who raised eyebrows last year for her provocative on-screen behavior in a reality show, is in the midst of yet another controversy after posing in the nude for the December 2011 cover of the Indian edition of international For Him men's Magazine(FHM). The ISI tattoo on Veena's arm in the picture adds to the provocative nature of the cover. This latest "outrage" raises the following questions: Is Veena motivated by her desire for publicity and money? Is Veena leading a new form of protest against Pakistan's religious, political and social orthodoxy?

Challenge to Religious Orthodoxy:

Malik is part of a new emerging crop of Pakistanis which, in small but significant ways, has challenged the religious orthodoxy. She, and others like her, present a sharp contrast to the rising wave of Islamic radicalism that the U.S. and the Pakistani secular-liberal elite view as an existential threat to the country. And with many well-traveled Pakistanis importing ideas from abroad, they are contributing to Pakistan's 21st-century search for itself.

Media Revolution:

In addition to increased international travel, Pakistan's media and telecom revolution that began during the Musharaf years is contributing to changing society. There are multiple, competing TV channels catering to almost every niche, whim and taste---from news, sports, comedy and talk shows to channels dedicated to cooking, fashion, fitness, music, business, religion, local languages and cultures etc. It seems that this media revolution has had a profound influence on how many young people talk, dress and behave, emulating the outspoken media personalities, actors, preachers, singers, sportsmen, celebrities and fashion models. In addition to a smorgasbord of TV channels born out of a surge in advertising spending, there are many newspapers and tabloids, and serious and glossy magazines, and many FM radio stations providing local news, sports, weather and traffic updates.

Protest Culture:

Enabled by Pakistan's youthful population's embrace of the new media, the hit videos Aalu Anday and Paki Rambo are the latest examples in a long tradition of protest music, poetry and literature in the rich and diverse culture of Pakistan.

In recent years, Pakistan's protest culture has entered a new and exciting phase. The artists no longer feel stifled by the heavily censored state electronic media which dominated the national landscape for most of Pakistan's existence. In fact, the new talent does not rely even on the corporate-owned commercial media that have emerged and become powerful during the last decade of President Musharraf's rule. With the growth of Internet in Pakistan, the rapidly expanding online population is feeling more empowered than ever to engage in free expression as part of their political and social activism.

Social Transformation:

Regardless of Veena's personal motivations, it is clear that the FHM cover featuring her in the nude is an act of defiance by the publicity-seeking actress. Shocking as it may seem to many Pakistanis, it represents only the tip of the iceberg of big social changes coming to Pakistan. These changes will likely lead to greater polarization in the short to intermediate term. Eventually, however, I expect that Pakistanis will learn to tolerate diversity and emerge as a stronger and more unified nation.

Here's a video clip of Veena Malik performing for India reality show Bigg Boss:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Media Revolution

Protest Music in Pakistan

Resilient Pakistan Defies Doomsayers

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Pakistani Entrepreneurs Survive Economic Downturn

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Tags: Defiance, Malik, Orthodoxy, Pakistan

Comment by Riaz Haq on December 3, 2011 at 5:02pm

Here are some excerpts from Washington Post blog on Veena Malik:

The controversy comes on the heels of a tense week for Pakistan, in which NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, an incident Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) blamed on ISI, which he said was actively supporting terorrist organizations. Senior officials in recent months have repeatedly accused ISI of supporting militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Pakistan has denied such allegations.

Sharma says having ISI written on Malik’s arm was just intended as a joke. “In India we joke about this . . . if anything goes wrong . . . we say the ISI must be behind this.”

But Pakistan’s media aren’t finding it funny, with the Express Tribune staunchly declaring that the “viral photo is fake.”

Malik has stirred up controversy before. In 2010, she outraged conservatives for appearing on Indian reality show “Bigg Boss,” a show similar to “Big Brother.” In March of this year, she challenged a Pakistani cleric on television.

Male Pakistani actor Osman Khalid Butt also rose eyebrows back home this week after he recorded a “foul-mouthed” video. In the video, Butt attempts to use as many of the 1,500 English and Urdu words recently banned by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority from use in text messages that he can.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 11, 2012 at 11:08am

In a Tehelka Op Ed, Kiran Nazish writes: "One way to regulate the media or politics in Pakistan is to have civil society watchdogs and that seems to be working. The civil society in Pakistan seems to be quietly — and perhaps, inadvertently — regaining strength. We don’t know if this could this be a threat to the establishment’s control over the state."

More excerpts:

"In recent years, Pakistani media has been on a wild ride of television ratings. To catch up, Maya Khan, a popular TV host took her show to public parks, where she – with her battalion of likeminded women, ran from ‘couple’ to ‘couple’, with microphones and cameras, exposing them as a social disgrace. "

"If the stars were on their usual path, Maya Khan would not have encountered the kind of public outrage she did. While some jocular humour embellished public anger, and jokes like ‘when in parks, beware of dogs and Maya Khan’, were winning popularity; a group of civil society members took shape. The Citizen for Free and Responsible Media (CFRM) emerged as a group of activists, academics, lawyers and journalists, including unadorned citizens that collectively forfeited against Maya’s actions and ran a campaign to ensure that she identifies such behaviour as unethical and apologises. Which, when she didn’t, aggravated the situation and caused her to get fired by the channel along with rest of the team on her show. The following days CFRM continued pointing out and campaigning against other programmes with questionable content or anchoring style and caused two resignations from the anchor and producer of popular prime time shows.

Maya Khan is not just a person, but also a phenomenon, and the growth of such phenomenon is now being impeded by efforts of groups like the CFRM. This development is significant in Pakistan, especially when, to rephrase a CNN report, ‘Media is becoming more powerful than the military.’"

"Take the NRO issue or the Memogate scandal, a massive outrage from the public has constantly been visible. Pakistan now seems ready to hold the state to account, forcing it to live up to its own commitments. Then the lawyers’ movement, with 10 million signatories, was crucial to restore the chief justice. Not just lawyers, but people from all walks of life took to the streets till the goal was accomplished. A lot happened in between but the resistance could not overcome collective civilian participation. It was the civil society in Pakistan that brought about the change from authoritarianism to democracy. We need to explore how quietly and steadfastly their efforts are having a transformative impact. And whether civil society can help dismantle the power, political and monetary concentration by the military. Pakistan may not have free and independent media yet but behind the barricades and across the checkposts, the civil society is learning how to self-liberate."

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 16, 2012 at 11:03am

Veena Malik is now being accused of being an ISI agent, reports Express Tribune:

Pakistani actor Veena Malik’s controversial ISI tattoo caused a stir on both sides of the border, but it seems some Indians have taken the message in the photo shoot literally. Allegations have arisen that Veena is working as a spy with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – a rumour she has been quick to deny and term “nonsense”.

“One day I am accused of being aggressive, and the next day a spy. I am an actress. I don’t like being given such labels. People should respect me. I am an honest person who is just doing her work,” the actress was quoted as saying.

The latest controversy erupted after a court order to look into a complaint that Veena was spying for Pakistan. Delhi police investigated the matter and reported that Veena had denied the allegations. The original complainant had said that Veena’s tattoo in a risque photo shoot for FHM magazine indicated that she was spying for the intelligence agency.

In response to this charge, Veena’s international manager Nisha Sahdev said:

“We see and hear stories in the press daily on Veena Malik. We choose to let them be, but on this occasion we must clear that Veena has all the proper paperwork to enter and exit countries she works in and holds all the rightful documents for each project. These comments are unnecessary and time consuming.”

Veena is currently focusing on the release of her three Bollywood films and a reality TV show.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 22, 2012 at 10:42pm
Comment by Riaz Haq on May 28, 2013 at 10:51pm

Here's a report on Taan, Pakistani version of Glee:

Gay romance, Islamic extremism and a soundtrack of classic love songs make for Pakistan's taboo-breaking answer to the hugely successful US television series Glee.
Like its smash hit forerunner, Taan follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.
Taan - which is a musical note in Urdu - tackles subjects considered off limits in Pakistan's deeply conservative Muslim society, with plotlines including love affairs between two men and between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl.

The plan is for the 26-episode series to air in September or October, and while producer Nabeel Sarwar insisted the program was not a "political pulpit", he is determined to take on the tough issues.

"Nobody wants to have controversy for the sake of controversy, nobody wants to have an assignment to violence, nobody wants to push a button that would result in a disaster for anyone," he said.
"But the truth has to come out somewhere. Where are we going to put a line in the sand and say, 'Look, this is what we are'?"
Taking a public stand to defend liberal values like this is rare in Pakistan, where forces of religious conservatism have risen steadily in recent years.
Risque scenes in foreign films are routinely cut by the authorities and the team behind Taan are acutely aware that they must tread carefully with their challenging material.
In one scene the two gay lovers dance and sing in a small room but never embrace - their relationship is suggested rather than overtly shown. The moment is interrupted when a radical Islamist character bursts in.
Director Samar Raza said representing the lives of gay characters was difficult in a country where homosexuality is still illegal.
"Let's say in a certain scene, there are two boys talking to each other, they are not allowed to show their physical attachment to each other," he said.
"So I bring a third character who says: 'God designed Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve'."
It is not only the sensibilities of the censors the producers must navigate.
While 70 per cent of Pakistan's population is under 35, a huge and potentially lucrative audience for advertisers, it is the head of the household who decides what families watch on TV, explains Sarwar.
"The head of the household during the day is the matriarch and the head of the household at night is the patriarch - they control access to TV," he said.
"You have to find programming that allows the matriarch and the patriarch to join in and participate, but there has to be room for the younger audience."
In a bid to appeal to older viewers the makers of Taan have licensed around 100 classic Pakistani songs, some by legendary artists such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and have reworked them to suit modern tastes, as Glee does.
"We try to find music that resonates with the older generation which control the access to the TV but we contemporise that music so that the younger audience does not feel left out," Sarwar said.
The show hopes that by taking on difficult issues in a light-hearted way it will both reflect the changing nature of Pakistani society and attract a young audience currently hooked on imported Turkish soap operas.
Local dramas struggle to compete with the likes of Manahil and Khalil and Ishq-e-Mamnu (Forbidden Love) - Turkish serials starring Westernised characters with fair skin and dubbed into Urdu.
Turkish soaps are widely watched across the Muslim world, but the popularity of Ishq-e-Mamnu has prompted a lively debate about the "Turkish invasion" of the small screen in Pakistan, with local production companies complaining that they do not have the resources to rival them....

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