Pakistan’s Dame Edna

In The Observer:

By day Ali Salim has stubble, scruffy jeans and a taste for cigarettes. But at night he pulls on a sequinned sari and high heels to become Begum Nawazish Ali – catty chatshow queen and South Asia’s first cross-dressing TV presenter.

‘She’s every woman’s inspiration and every man’s fancy,’ smiles 27-year-old actor Salim, his nails painted gold and his eyebrows plucked after filming the latest episode of Late Night with Begum Nawazish Ali, Pakistan’s answer to Dame Edna Everage.

His creation – a snobby, gossipy, middle-aged woman who flirts with her guests and flashes her dead husband’s jewels – has captivated a young audience eager for satire of Pakistan’s staid politicians and unafraid of sexual ambivalence. Politicians, showbusiness people and even Islamic leaders crowd on to her velveteen couch for conversation that veers from sympathetic to smutty to downright bitchy.

The show pushes the boundaries of the acceptable – and, critics say, the tasteful – in conservative Pakistani society. In one recent episode Ali sneered at the lipstick worn by an actress, then turned to Aitzaz Ehsan, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer. ‘Would you mind if I call you “easy”?’ she purred, batting her eyelids. ‘It’s so much easier on the tongue.’