Saturday, December 3, 2011

Veena Malik Challenges Pakistan's Orthdoxy

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 and the hand grenade in her hand whose pin she is shown biting on in the picture add 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 Veena Malik Photo Shoot:

Veena Malik’s hot photoshoot for ‘Supermodel’ from Connect on Vimeo.

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

Silent Social Revolution in Pakistan


Imran said...

FHM servers must be overwhelmed by Pakistani hits.

Ras said...

From The Hindu newspaper article:

"Commenting on the latest FHM cover, one tweeter said “Veena Malik would make a terrible ISI agent

considering how much she reveals” while another wondered if cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf would invite her to the party fold now that she had revealed all her assets."

Riaz Haq said...

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.

Roland said...

Do read the BBC story in the link below. At least someone has a sense of humor to release the tension of the days we are going through.

If this had come out before Adm Mullen's retirement--he would have hired her, to get even with the ISI.

Shams said...

How fascinating the way Veena Malik is, in your words, "leading a new form of protest against Pakistan's religious, political and social orthodoxy."

Najam said...

Each and every word of your write up under the heading "Social Transformation" needs to be written in Gold ,and given wider publicity.May be in religious sermons also ,as it will educate people not to be ashamed of Veena Malik's Challenges to Orthodoxy(I could not understand why you did not have courage to write Islam in place of Orthodoxy),but take it as a tip of the Iceberg and we have also learnt through your words of wisdom that tolerating nude photos on covers of Indian Magazines,and similar other acts will make Pakistan a more Stronger and Unified nation.

Unfortunately your advice could not reach father of Veena Malik ,who issued this foolish statement.

Aslam Malik, father of Veena Malik, has demanded the government take serious action against her daughter because she did a shameful act not only for family but for the country.

Mayraj said...

Veena Malik files for Rs100m in damages from FHM

Refusing to balk in the face of controversy, Veena Malik has filed for monetary damages against For Him Magazine (FHM) to the sum of Indian Rs100,000,000 following their release of two magazine covers featuring the diva naked.

The notice was delivered on Sunday and named Maxposure Corporate Media, FHM chieft editor Kabeer Sharma and photographer Vishal Saxena as respondents. It outlined Malik’s narrative of events surrounding the photo shoot for FHM, including the claim that “our client was assured that no nude photograph in any manner would be shot by you.”

The notice reiterated that Malik’s photos had been morphed, stating that Malik had agreed to be shot in shorts and tee shirt and boots; wearing a fur coat up to thighs and boots; hot pants and a broad big belt with the upper portion of her body covered with her hands and an ISI tattoo on her hand; an image with a tattoo of “ISI” appearing on one hand, in which Malik would wear a bikini and/or a thong posing with folded hands with the upper portion of her body covered with other tattoos.

Claiming irreparable harm, loss and damage, the notice said the respondents had committed offences punishable under the Indian Penal Code as well as Information and Technology Act, 2000. The notice called on FHM to ensure the magazine issue would not go into print, remove the tampered photos from the FHM website and pay millions in damages.

Anonymous said...

if I am not mistaken she has tried a similar stunt in an earlier controvery.

FHM is a very large international magazine and not your local girlie picture magazine.

I am sure they did the appropiate due dilligence before publishing...

Rashid said...

Many years ago we re-subscribed to all the Pak channels. We were surprised to see the disappearance of the head cover from lady announcer's heads. Then we saw the all-music channels along with the very frank political discussions allowed by Musharraf. We liked the dialogues and the proliferation of points of view.

Now we see Veena Malik has become the point person for more changes to come.

Progress - or regress.
Progress in one area (political freedom) can not be divorced from changes in other areas (social behavior). Mansoor Ijaz and Gen Hamid Gul's son can only speak on TV when Veena can speak her mind. Otherwise, banning one will necessarily mean the silencing of the other.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "FHM is a very large international magazine and not your local girlie picture magazine. I am sure they did the appropiate due dilligence before publishing..."

Apparently you have not heard about what has been happening in the UK with News Corp, an international publisher owned by Ruper Murdoch.

A number of its editors and reporters have been arrested and charged for breaking British criminal and civil laws and infringing on the rights of individuals.

Khalid said...

Is this a law of physics (or accounting) that our vices and virtues must come together in one indivisible integrated package?

All morality is based upon discriminating between good and bad. However the West, whose advancement in the material world was accompanied by its rebellion against (a corrupt) religion decided that political freedom and freedom from moral laws must be linked together. And our generation is one that has been educated in that nonsense.

Let us be honest with ourselves. We claim to be Muslims and pray (whenever we pray even if once a year) for the Straight Path.Then turn around and claim that the Straight Path and the Crooked Path are inseparable.

Let us stop trying to turn vices into virtues by putting a philosophical cover over the effort.

This report comes from the sewers that originated in the West and are now flooding the East as well. This is the promised social change. I guess we can rejoice if we enjoy the smells of the sewer lines.

Riaz Haq said...

Khalid: "Is this a law of physics (or accounting) that our vices and virtues must come together in one indivisible integrated package?"

No, the unwritten law really enforced in Pakistan is that the people must hang the petty thieves and appoint great ones to high offices.

This Taliban style talk of vice and virtue about females is a distraction from the real moral and material corruption rampant in Muslim nations.

Jihad must first be waged against the real filth of lies, bribery, violence and injustice that is spreading the worst kind of stench from the open "social sewers" in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Salman said...

Riaz: "Jihad must first be waged against the real filth of lies, bribery, violence and injustice that is spreading the worst kind of stench from the open "social sewers" in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world."

I agree in toto and most othere will do as well.But my dear friend ,one has to draw a line which ,as Muslims and as Pakistani,should never be crossed when it comes to widely used term of "openness" and "social freedom in all repects" in the West.

As a Muslim and Pakistani ,I will like to die before I can see one of my daughters behaving like Veena Malik.I m sure that most on this site will hate to see their daughters to do even 10 % of it.So question is that ,by doing so are we depriving our daughters of the social freedom they must enjoy? If yes ,then I stop here and no more arguments from my end.

If not ,then are we not exposing ourselves as ones with double standards that we set one standard for ourselves and another for other girls ---the muslim daughters of other fellow muslim fathers.

Riaz Haq said...

Salman: "If not ,then are we not exposing ourselves as ones with double standards that we set one standard for ourselves and another for other girls ---the muslim daughters of other fellow muslim fathers."

I respect your opinion, and I do not endorse the choice Veena Malik made for herself.

As to the double standard, I think you are confusing tolerance with's an important distinction that must not be lost in this discussion.

Roland said...

extremism, in any form, is to be avoided.

Khalid said...

Riaz: "As to the double standard, I think you are confusing tolerance with's an important distinction that must not be lost in this discussion."

So you will tolerate if your daughter did it? (And even talk about the bright results that may ensue from this bold but unaccepted act).

Riaz Haq said...

Khalid: "So you will tolerate if your daughter did it? (And even talk about the bright results that may ensue from this bold but unaccepted act)."

Since you raise such hypotheticals, let me ask you this: What would you do if your daughter decided to do it? Would you resort to honor killing? Do you endorse that response which is all too common not just in Muslim nations, but even among educated Muslims in the West? Is that appropriate?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a description of the photos and the ensuing scandal as reported by NY tabloid Daily News:

A nude shot of a sultry Pakistani starlet on the cover of an Indian lad mag has sparked an uproar between the two nuclear rivals.

Pakistani actress Veena Malik appears on the cover of FHM India's December issue wearing nothing but a steamy gaze and the initials of Pakistan's fearsome intelligence agency, ISI, tattooed across her arm.

Conservative Muslim clerics in her home country slammed the shot as an insult to Islam, while Pakistan's government has promised to investigate whether the image was doctored, London's The Telegraph reported.

Malik, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit against the magazine, saying that she agreed to pose topless -- along with a cheeky dig at her home country's spy service -- but the editors digitally altered the shot to make her appear totally nude.

"I agreed to a photo shoot and having an ISI tattoo in a humorous way but I did not have any nude photos. My pictures have been morphed," she told a Pakistani television station.

The suit is seeking $2 million in damages.

FHM India editor Kabeer Sharma insists the cover is legit.

"Maybe she is facing some kind of backlash, so maybe that's why she is denying it," Sharma told Agence France-Presse.

"We have not photoshopped or faked the cover. This is what she looks like, she has an amazing body."

Sharma says a video from the cover shoot would prove the photos are real.

An alternate cover that has surfaced online shows Malik clad in a dinky military cargo belt while nibbling on the pin of a grenade.

The 33-year-old Muslim actress and model was best known as a Pakistani TV star before hitting it big in India in 2010 as a contestant on the fourth season of the reality show "Bigg Boss," a version of "Big Brother."

In January, she got in a much-publicized verbal spat with a conservative Muslim cleric, who called her an insult to Pakistan and Islam for cozying up with a dashing Indian actor on the show.

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

A Pakistani high court yesterday rejected a lawyer’s petition asking it to direct authorities to file charges against model and actress Veena Malik, following allegedly nude photographs of her appearing on the cover of FHM India’s December issue and confiscate her passport.

Salimullah Khan had filed the petition against Malik in the Islamabad High Court the day before yesterday, noting that she should be tried under provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code for obscene acts, sedition, defamation and not wearing clothes and using equipment used by Pakistani military personnel.

Khan also asked the court to confiscate her passport and order her to return to Pakistan. Malik’s passport is “state property” and the government could confiscate it under the law, he claimed.

Rejecting his petition yesterday, the court said it could not take any action as the photos had been published in another country.

Khan contended that Malik’s conduct was “controversial and shameful for everybody in Pakistan” and that she had trampled “all standards of Islamic cultures and morality”.

“She is carrying an inscription on her arm, that is ISI in bold letters, and she is also proclaimed as a weapon of mass destruction by the magazine. Thus she has defamed the country and its institutions,” Khan told....

Tariq said...

Did you know there are two Pakistani porn stars in American adult film industry?

Check out Gia Jordan and Tiffany Taylor

Riaz Haq said...

Veena Malik has gone missing, according to media reports:

The controversial Pakistani model and actress, who is suing FHM magazine after she claimed they doctored photos to make her look nude, has not been seen since yesterday morning.

She had complained of feeling depressed, but also was the subject of death threats over the photos.

Her manager Pratiek Mehta said he received a text from Malik saying she was ill and depressed.

Mr Mehta said she had been filming a movie called Mumbai 125 Kilometers at Goregaon and was last seen leaving in a car after shooting had finished.

He added: "I have been trying to reach her since yesterday, but have failed. I have approached the officials at Bandra police station and have sought help in finding the whereabouts of Veena."

The film’s director Hemant Madhukar said: "Veena left after the pack-up yesterday (Friday) morning. In the afternoon, I received an SMS from her where she apologised for not being able to concentrate on the shooting, stating that she was disturbed.

"I called her immediately, but her number was not reachable. I have not been able to get in touch with her since.”

Read more:

Mahim Noor said...

Absolutely fantastic Post
Veena Malik Controversy Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need!Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AP story on the firing of "vigil-auntie" TV host Maya Khan:

In a rare victory for Pakistani liberals, a private TV station decided to fire a popular morning show host after she sparked outrage by running around a public park trying to expose young, unmarried couples hanging out, a taboo in this conservative Muslim country.

Pakistani liberals derided host Maya Khan's behavior on Twitter and Facebook, comparing it to the kind of moral policing practiced by the Taliban, and started an online petition asking Samaa TV to end this "irresponsible programming" and apologize.

The company responded Saturday in a letter sent to reporters saying it had decided to fire Khan and her team and cancel her show because she refused to issue an unconditional apology for the Jan. 17 program.

Samaa TV's decision marked an unusual victory for Pakistan's beleaguered liberal minority, which has become more marginalized as the country has shifted to the right and whose members have been killed by Islamist extremists for standing up for what they believe.

Critics of the program also praised the company's decision as a positive example of self-regulation by Pakistan's freewheeling TV industry, which was liberalized in 2000 and has mushroomed from one state-run channel to more than 80 independent ones.

Some shows have been praised for serving the public good by holding powerful officials to account, but many others have been criticized for doing anything that will get ratings, including pandering to populist sentiments at the expense of privacy and sometimes truth.

"Samaa management has set a good example that some others need to follow," said prominent human rights activist and journalist Hussain Naqi.

During the program in question, Khan and around a dozen other men and women chased down young couples in a seaside park in the southern city of Karachi. Several couples raced away from the group. One young man put on a motorcycle helmet to hide his identity, while his female friend covered her face with a veil.

Khan finally accosted one couple sitting on a bench and pestered them with questions about whether they were married and whether their parents knew they were there. The man said the couple was engaged and asked Khan to shut off her cameras and microphone. She lied and said they were off.

"What is the difference between this kind of media vigilantism and that demonstrated by the Taliban?" said Mahnaz Rahman, a director at the Aurat Foundation, an organization that fights for women's rights in Pakistan.

Islamist extremists have been ruthless in targeting liberal Pakistanis who disagree with their hardline views. One of the most prominent examples was in last January, when a bodyguard shot to death the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, because of his criticism of Pakistani laws that mandate the death penalty for criticizing the Prophet Muhammad.

Following Khan's program, one headline in a local paper called the host and the other women who appeared on the show "Vigil-aunties," referring to the South Asian term "aunty" for a bossy older woman.

Riaz Haq said...

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."

Riaz Haq said...

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.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a link to pictures of Nadia Moore Ali, Pakistani-American Playboy Centerfold:

Riaz Haq said...

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....

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan’s Saad Haroon is the second-funniest man in the world. The title was bestowed on him at the American comedy club Laugh Factory’s first international competition in October, during which Haroon got more than 7,000 votes in a public poll, beating comedians from France, the UAE and Spain. Haroon, who has been touring in the United States, will perform at the Holiday Inn Dubai Al Barsha on Wednesday, December 17, in a show hosted by Dubai Laughing Comedy Club.

Haroon’s 10-year career has been full of firsts: he created Blackfish, Pakistan’s first improv comedy troupe; he headed the first English-language political and social satire show on national television; and his Saad Haroon: Very Live! tour made him the first Pakistani comedian to perform standup routines in English across Pakistan. Ahead of his show in Dubai, Haroon tells us why, now more than ever, social and political satire in his country has become necessary and relevant.

How did you get into comedy?

I started around 2001, at the time the 9/11 attacks occurred. It was a depressing time for Pakistan – all the war and terror. We were going through a tough time. I wanted to do something that would keep people happy on a daily basis. I was working with my father back then and started to do comedy on the side. It was like I was leading two separate lives. At the time, I thought I’d be a good desi boy and sooner or later give up comedy. But I quit my job instead. I’ll be sharing a chunk of those stories from that journey on my show.

How is political and social satire received in Pakistan?

Pakistan has definitely gone through some hard times recently. As far as politics goes, people will talk about anything. It’s like we are honest to a fault – we call a spade a spade. Generally, when you are part of a society, you tend to gloss over things, but I’m proud that in Pakistan no one glosses over anything. We are still a young country, we’ll see how this honesty ends in the national character and scheme of things.

But is any topic off limits on stage?

There are definitely social taboos. You can say things about politics and you may or may not get into trouble depending on what city you are in and its affiliations. So it does get tricky. Of course, Pakistan is a very religious country, so people don’t appreciate humour about religion. You’ve got to respect sensitivities – performing in the UAE is the same way. My approach is to talk about things in a certain manner and make people laugh.

Offstage, what’s a typical day in your life like?

Very boring. Out of bed at 8am and then it’s just answering emails, writing and correspondence. I don’t have a manager, so I have to handle everything, right from writing, producing, directing, acting and getting through the show. It’s a full-time job.

When you won the title of the second-funniest person in the world you said that even if you had come last you would not have been disappointed. What would have been the consolation?

Just getting nominated would have been the consolation – at least someone is confident of my ability. And in a competition such as this, you meet all kinds of comedians, each with a different style. Just the whole experience was worth it. There is no good reason why I do comedy. It’s a very chaotic and neurotic profession that I’m addicted to.

If you were to run into an alien on Earth, what joke would you tell?

Gosh, I’d just say run and don’t look back. That’s my sad interpretation of what’s going on. I’d ask them what they were doing here and tell them to run for their life.