"I have come to India to look for a groom for myself and spread the message of peace and harmony between the two nations," Ali, the Chat Show 'Queen' of Pakistan had said when she was in India last month. Well, she hasn't found a groom yet, but so popular was she across all the live shows on News Channels and across all the print publicity she received, that the mega Hindi General Entertainment Channel, 9X, has signed her on to anchor her very own entertaining and slightly edgy talk show called Begum, which will air on 9X every Saturday at 9 pm. We spoke to Begum Nawazish Ali to bring you an insight into this very interesting person, who will without doubt be the most unique talk show host across television channels in India. Read on…
Thanks! It is a wonderful opportunity I've got to show my talents and abilities on 9X, and that too doing what I love to do – mix with the most interesting personalities from entertainment and lifestyle across India.
How do you intend to bring peace and harmony between two nations?
I personally think that communication gap, misunderstandings and old beliefs that are flowing in the veins of most Indians and Pakistanis are a major cause the misunderstandings and even hatred that sometimes flows across the border. Our children too will probably have the same beliefs because that's what they are told. So I intend to bring India and Pakistan in the right perspective so that the new generation can believe what they see and not what they hear. The idea is to break barriers and preconceived notions of identity and politics, and to bring people closer. One very important thing is that I want to run a no visa campaign between the two nations.
Do you watch Hindi movies? What's your take on Bollywood?
Yes, of course I do. I am a Bollywood fan, I think there is immense talent in this industry.
Who is your biggest heartthrob in India?
At present, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He's the man for me!
Who all have you met from Bollywood? What was your experience?
I have met John Abraham – he's so cool! I've also met Manisha Koirala, Mahesh Bhatt, Sangeeta Bijlani, Ajay Devgan, even Mohammad Azharuddin. I truly enjoyed myself interviewing them and meeting them. I look forward to meeting many more of Bollywood stars on my show Begum on 9X.
Would you like to act in a Bollywood film?
Of course, why not! I always love trying new things and new opportunities. I am God's child and do not like to refuse anything.
What does Begum like most about India?
Democracy. I always talk about it in my shows in Pakistan too.
What are Begum's interests besides acting and TV?
I am a big cricket fan – a huge cricket fan! Singing is also something that interests me a lot.
I like to work towards social issues and promote safe sex, create awareness about AIDS…
Who is the one Indian you really long to meet, and why?
Abhishek Bachchan… I want to meet him and ask him why he married Aishwarya and broke my heart!
Your favourite ensemble? Your favourite Indian Designer?
Saris… it's the most graceful attire. Manish Malhotra is great. He was on my show in Pakistan as well.
Mumbai has a great party circuit, and most likely you will check it out this time. What is the party circuit like, in Karachi?
Yes, I have heard a lot about the Mumbai party circuit, and now I will experience it too. But the party scene in Karachi is not that great -- people still need to come out of their shells and accept it. But yes, there's a section of the society who are party freaks.
Let's move to more personal things – things that make you what you are. So – you are essentially a transvestite. Any comments on that?
I think I am an expression of woman in a man's body.
Do you have someone in mind?
Yes I do …Mahendra Singh Dhoni -- he's the man for me. And.. mmm… I also like Shahrukh Khan and John Abraham – they're all such wonderful men!
So are we going to see them in Begum on 9X?
I certainly hope so!
Do you think that you're normal?
I'm not normal and I think there is enough abnormality in my life and therefore, I need someone normal. Normal, yet somebody who can deal with my eccentricities, with my mad lifestyle, my stupid schedules, all of that also.
Given your open lifestyle, don't you think it would be difficult for any man/ woman to come to terms with that?
Actually this is something that I've been thinking about myself. I've been in relationships before and I've had a great time. And if I've ever cheated, it's been out of sheer reaction when I know my partner's cheated
Would you be comfortable if your partner had an equally interesting lifestyle as yours?
I think it would be so much better if he could be as interesting
Why do you want to dress up as a woman?
Even as a child I used to fantasize about growing up to be a woman. My friends all said that I am like a young woman. I am a woman in a man's body. Born biologically male, I've frequently prayed to God to make me a girl
Where does the real Ali belong?
My life fluctuates between two extremes. 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 them.
Has there been family opposition to all you do?
Of course, there were a few family problems with mom – a former civil servant – and my dad, who is now a retired polo-playing army officer. While growing up, I always infuriated mom by dressing up in her saris or exchanging ladylike gossip with her friends. On many occasions I tried to explain the familiar woman-in-a-man's-body logic to mom, but she obviously didn't understand. Even so, I credit her as the strongest influence in my life. It could not have been otherwise - Begum Ali has a lot to thank her mother for learning impeccable lady-like tricks, while Ali Saleem, the boy who wanted to be a girl, could not help but hate the same woman for not accepting him as he truly is.
How can you lead a dual life?
It's not a dual life. I think Begum is a very important part of me…She gives me strength and she is my inspiration. I think she is a celebration of life, celebration of womanhood and I think its perfectly cool for a man to celebrate himself as a woman.
What is the difference between Ali & Begum Ali?
Begum is very close to Ali. She gives him strength and inspiration.
What is Begum Ali all about?
Begum Nawazish Ali is actually an extension of me. It is something I have dreamed of since childhood. All my friends were women above 50 years of age and my mother would always chide me for that. She thought it was quite abnormal that the only friends visiting me at home were older women of my mother's age. Yasmeen Ismail was my mentor, I loved her. She was a part of me, and even now she lives within me. I know one day we will be together again. I could relate to her in many ways. Muneeza Baseer used to always say to me that there is a 60-year-old woman inside of me. Half my married, female friends confide in me and I can actually understand them and at the same time, also give them a man's perspective. I get to have the best of both worlds.
Speaking of Pakistanis, how has the general public reacted to the Begum?
Ordinary people on the road, people like food vendors, taxiwalas, chowkidars — the general public finds Begum Nawazish very amusing, they are much more simple, much more innocent and for them anything that is fun and not dangerous is a welcome addition to their lives because everything for the common man nowadays spells danger.
Is Begum Nawazish Ali an impersonation?
No. Begum Nawazish Ali is me, something I have dreamt of since childhood. The Begum is an expression of me as a woman. She's a socialite who is charming regal and intelligent. The character actually came about following a suggestion from Dr. Omar Adil, who is an orthopedic surgeon in Lahore. He has done a lot of research on the Pakistan film industry and was a close friend and doctor of Madam Noor Jehan's. The minute he met me, we hit it off and during a casual chitchat he suggested that I do something bigger than the Benazir impersonations because he felt my talent was unique. In fact, he said that he saw a diva in me and that I should bring that diva out! The idea appealed to me; so I wrote out a rough concept for the show, which was more like a character sketch since we had no idea of what kind of guests would appear on the show. I then sent the draft to Dr. Adil. He had a neighbour by the name of Begum Nawazish Ali, who was married to a colonel, and that's how my character was given an identity as the late colonel's wife.