Hasan Zaidi at NBC News:

X_lon_pakistantalkshow_0701_standardLast year when a journalist from Indian-administered Kashmir asked me what the “story” was behind Begum Nawazish Ali, I was more than just surprised. The Begum (the term means “Lady” in Urdu) in question is the host of Pakistan’s most popular TV talk show – “Late Night Show with Begum Nawazish Ali.”

I didn’t think Aaj, the fledgling television channel which broadcasts the show, was even seen outside the country. I asked him how he knew the name of Pakistan’s rising star and he said “Oh, we all watch her program off satellite!”

The talk show host making waves in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (and apparently Kashmir) is purportedly a stylish, middle-aged, socialite widow of an army colonel. Her monologues are often laced with sexual innuendo, she flirts openly with her guests, and sometimes embarrasses them with probing questions about their private lives. Her guests include some of Pakistan’s most well-known personalities: the urban elite, film and television stars and even some top politicians. Most are nevertheless thrilled to be invited to appear on a program millions are watching.

Viewers are obviously fascinated too. Dinner party conversations here in Karachi are often peppered with anecdotes about her risqué banter and sly digs at Pakistani politics. Women call the television station to inquire about the tailoring of her sequined blouses and where to buy her glamorous saris.

The thing is, Begum Nawazish Ali is actually a man. Ali Saleem, the 28-year-old man who dons lipstick, mascara and a wig to Begum Nawazish Ali, has managed to break many taboos in conservative Pakistan through the character.

More here.