I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: Veena Malik is my hero. And why wouldn’t she be? She’s bold, she’s beautiful, and she’s unapologetically honest, which is more than what I can say for anyone else in the contending. In just a few short years, this fiery young woman has evidenced her worth time and again, first by proving herself an extraordinary entertainer and mimic-artist, the likes of which Pakistan hasn’t seen before. Then came incredible demonstrations of her benignancy and philanthropy followed by a the kind of career moves that most people in her business only dream of… and then, most recently when she showed the world that shutting-up and letting others walk all over you is not the way to live your life: That sometimes you have to fight the moral brigade for them to let you be.
“I don’t speak much, but when I do, I speak the truth.” She tells me with the confidence of a true champion. “People and what they think of me cannot and does not influence me… I am what I am. If you like it, great; if you don’t, please just stop watching and talking about me!”
And so begins my long and profound interview with the woman that had me at “Mufti Sahab, yeh kia bat hui…?”
Tell me about your first big break. Are you as proud of the work you did back in 2000 as you are of the work you’re doing now?
You could say I started in 2000, but I consider my big break to have come along in 2005, when I did Javed Sheikh’s ‘Yeh Dil Apka Hua.’ Before that, I was primarily still a student. My family background isn’t the kind where daughters are allowed to act in movies and lead glamorous social lives. My father, who was in the army, had very strict rules in the house had married my elder sisters off when they were 12 and 13 years old. Naturally, he was adamant about marrying me off when I was barely out of the 8th grade as well. I assumed it was because he wasn’t comfortable paying my school fees and didn’t want the extra financial burden. I thought if I could somehow make my own money and take care of my own expenses, he’d loosen up and let me study a bit more… I started doing commercials and even did a couple of films, but I took them all very casually. I was young; so money and independence were the major motivating factors at the time. It wasn’t until 2005 when I really got into the business!
So you consider ‘Yeh Dil Apka Hua’ to be the launching pad that propelled you into superstardom?
‘Yeh Dil Apka Hua’ was my first big film and it was a big hit all over Pakistan. What excited me most about it at the time was that I had gotten good money for it and I was going to Switzerland for the first time. I hadn’t even sat in a plane up till then, so it was all a very big deal for me! Javed Sheikh is a good person and I had a good time working with him… and the cherry topping obviously was the film becoming a blockbuster hit, which was great!
So if you sum it up, what has the Lollywood experience been like for you?
To be honest, I’ve always been lucky and very blessed in whatever I’ve done. I never had a shortage of offers in Lollywood, but if you observe my career a little closely, you’ll notice I haven’t done a lot of work yet, and yet my success ratio has been phenomenally high. I’ve done a total of 8 movies out of which 5 were super hits. I was successful and I was having a blast, but I eventually I decided to move to television in 2007 because I wasn’t very happy with the kind of movies being made in Lollywood. There wasn’t much choice and most of the productions were not something I would have felt proud to be associated with. I didn’t feel I was doing justice with my acting ability.
Would you ever consider doing it again?
Not at all! I’ve moved on in my life. I mean, I might consider revisiting Lollywood if somehow, miraculously our industry changed and started producing quality work… but I guess that’s just a dream for now, isn’t it?
I think the country is going through so much simultaneously… there’s hunger, poverty, terrorism, political corruption… who’s going to make time to mend the film industry in such times? Besides, I don’t even think Lollywood is worth being called an industry right now… one or two directors who make one or two films a year can’t call themselves an industry!
Did you ever think ‘Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain’ would become such a big success?
‘Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain’ was a phenomenal show, and everybody including the president and prime minister used to watch it! Sure, the show was banned a couple of times during times of political instability but we still had a lot of support from the public. People actually came out on the streets demanding the show to be brought back on air!
‘Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain’ played a huge role in my personal as well as professional life. Professionally, I was content doing the show and I knew then that my decision to leave films and do more TV work was right. I know this might sound dramatic, but this show showed me the true meaning of my life: I learned about the kind of misery Pakistani people are enduring; I learned about the games politicians play; I even matured enough to become an ambassador for WHO in Pakistan and sponsor a couple of children from the SOS village. I actually felt myself grow as a person!
You excelled at political satire and mimicry… Tell me, what’s your take on the current situation of Pakistan?
There was a time when we could laugh about our misery and condition in good humour… but now my heart cries at the current situation of Pakistan. Politically and socially, we’re goners! Look at our society; it’s at the brink of collapse… There’s lots of frustration and problems like corruption, poverty and unemployment are found everywhere you look. You can’t laugh about these things anymore because now it’s crossed the limits. And you know what the most frustrating thing is? I don’t see a leader or hero in Pakistan these days that could salvage the country and save it.
When you see a ray of hope, you tell yourself to be cheer up and wait for things to change, but sadly I don’t see a ray of hope in Pakistan anymore.
After ‘Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain,’ you did ‘Miss Dunya,’ which was again all about satire and mimicry. Did you ever fear offending anyone? Did anyone ever get mad at you for mentioning or mimicking them on your show?
Not really, I don’t remember anyone ever getting offended with what I did. On the contrary, everybody wanted to be a part of the show whether they declared it publicly or not. President Musharraf’s government banned the show, but he personally loved his character on the show. Whenever I used to meet a politician of that time, they used to praise me and the show and told me they were glad to be on it. They used to enjoy us making fun of them! In fact, some very prominent personalities and celebrities also often asked me to do a skit about them or mention them on the show, and that was really funny and uplifting.
Political satire and humourous shows these days are just ridiculous though, don’t you think? They’re so irritating, with no decent content. I don’t even understand the message they’re trying to get across half the time. ’Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain’ and ‘Miss Dunya’ were original, now it’s just done to death!
Of all the people you imitated, who did you enjoy doing most?
I just loved impersonating Bushra Ansari. She’s such an interesting woman and I couldn’t stop laughing at myself whenever I slipped into her character. Other than that Madam Noor Jehan was also a personal favourite. She’s just too glamorous and beautiful, and I felt all glamorous and beautiful whenever I became her!
By the way, very few people know this, but I used to do my own makeup on ‘Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain’ and ‘Miss Dunya’!
That’s interesting! So you’re not just an actress, you’re also a brilliant makeup artist!
If you say so! Pakistan doesn’t have many makeup experts, and I couldn’t trust anyone to do the job but myself, so I would observe the people I was going to mimic and then do all the makeup myself!
Who did you enjoy mimicking the least?
When it comes to imitating and mimicry, I think you can only do the people you really like; you know, people whose qualities you admire. Personally too, there’s hardly anyone in this world that I don’t like… especially when it comes to work. I’m very professional and I like everybody. I don’t judge anyone and I certainly don’t hold grudges… and that’s probably how I’ve been able to copy everyone I’ve impersonated with complete honesty.
How did you end up on ‘Bigg Boss’? Did the producers of the show have to push hard for you to say Yes?
I got the call from Colours at a time when I was going through a very serious emotional crisis. My personal life was in chaos; my two very public relationships had recently ended and I was plastered all over the news locally and people were saying all kinds of things about me. I wasn’t able to concentrate on my work either, which is why I’d already approached my producers on Dunya TV and asked them for a three month break because I wanted some time off to pull myself together. Even though I had refused to do ‘Bigg Boss’ initially because I didn’t think I would enjoy doing it, the producer called me up again after a couple of days, asking if I had changed my mind. I refused again, telling him that I wasn’t in the mood to work as I was planning to go on a break, and he said to me: “Veena, the timing to go on a break couldn’t have been better… this show will be the best break you could imagine!” And that’s how he eventually convinced me to say yes. Three months in seclusion with only 14 people and no outside contact: it was bound to be interesting!
How did you prepare for the show?
I didn’t see a single episode from a previous season before going to the ‘Bigg Boss’ house. I’d only seen maybe five minutes of footage on YouTube, and that’s it. I had no idea what lay ahead of me at all…
And how was the whole experience over all?
Look, when I signed up for ‘Bigg Boss,’ my motive was never to win that one crore Rupee prize money, especially after the contract I’d signed with Colours, because money doesn’t hold a lot of meaning in my life. If you followed the show, you’d know that everyone on the show had at one point or another engaged in some sort of propaganda against the other house members… I was the only one who never talked about anyone behind their backs. Of course I had fights and I ranted, but I was always very honest and never tried to deceive or play someone like the others did.
I went to the show for myself and myself alone. I planned on taking it as a vacation, and that’s exactly what I did. I got to spend time with myself, and that’s something I hadn’t gotten time to do for a long time. You already know we were in complete seclusion throughout those three months. I didn’t have access to a television, newspapers, internet, nothing… and it was refreshing! ‘Bigg Boss’ is a very effective psychological experiment. It literally helped me rediscover myself. I got to identify the limits of my patience and courage. It helped me realize how refined I am; how forgiving I am; and what all shortcoming I have and how I could try to overcome them. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything!
If I remember correctly, I’ve once heard you claim that you were the most successful celebrity on the show. Were you really?
Of course I was the most successful person on the show! Normally these reality shows are full of losers. People who don’t have anything going for them in their careers come on the show to spend time, make money and if luck is with them, find fame and success again. Likewise, the people on ‘Bigg Boss’ were all either have-beens who nobody remembered, or they were so new nobody even knew them! I was the only one with a currently flourishing career.
You were also probably one of the most consistently nominated people on the show, and yet you stuck around till the very end, almost… Do you think that had something to do with the way you conducted yourself on the show, or were you simply lucky?
Yeah, you’re right; I was nominated a lot of times, and every time my name was called out, I was absolutely ready to leave. I knew in my heart that ‘Bigg Boss’ was only going to affect my life as much as I would allow it to: it couldn’t break me until I allowed it to get to me, which I knew I just couldn’t. Obviously I was lucky too. If I remember correctly, I was nominated a total of 7 times, which is more than anyone else, but I was saved each and every time. So who saved me? My Indian fans did. They voted for me and I’m very proud of that.
So how has ‘Bigg Boss’ changed Veena Malik?
Today, everyone in India, whether it’s a child, a man or a woman knows who Veena Malik is. I think that’s the only major difference the show made in my life… other that I’m still the same person. I don’t change who I am just by going on a television show!
I personally thought you were one of the most entertaining parts of the show… after Dolly Bindra, of course. That woman has some serious issues, and you had a falling out with her in the end as well. What was your relationship with her like off screen?
I’m one of those people who’re the same with everybody, whether it’s the world’s nicest person or the most insufferable person that ever lived! I don’t judge people at all, especially not based on their personal lives or past experiences. I think it’s just wrong to do so.
When Dolly Bindra came back and apologized to Shweta Tewari, I was very impressed because doing that took guts. Dolly is not the kind of person who could easily bow down in front of someone. ‘Bigg Boss’ was basically an entertainment show, and a lot of situations that went on air seemed exaggerated to the audience while many other important things, comments and events went unnoticed because the producers decided not to show them to the public. For instance, the producers showed Dolly cursing Shweta, but they chose not to show the rest of the residents cursing Dolly in response. You see, ‘Bigg Boss’ isn’t the whole truth. They only show the things they wish to show. Shweta used bad language against me a couple of times, but they didn’t show that. They only showed my reaction, which made me look like the bad guy! What I’m saying is, I was friendly with all the girls in the house; I have no insecurities whatsoever. I know how good or bad I am… but yes, things between Dolly and me got a little tricky in the end because I was really upset with her. I had been very nice to her throughout, even when she picked fights with the rest of the house, I used to support her. She disregarded all of that, and that’s when I lost it and called her a cartoon… which she is! I mean, just look at her… she’s a terrible looking woman who screams like a mad person. I didn’t say anything wrong, did I!?
Dumb question, but who was your best friend in the house?
Like I just told you, I’m exactly the same on and off screen. For me, a hundred cameras recording my every move don’t make a difference… I’m the same whether they’re there or not.
Ashmit Patel was my best friend on the show and I’ve found him to be even better friend after it all ended. In fact, I just spoke to him a little while ago on the phone and we’re still very close. People used to say we were only being friendly for the publicity, but honestly speaking, we had no idea what they were showing to you guys on TV and what they weren’t… so that’s that!
Ali Saleem was evicted quite early on. How did that make you feel?
My association with Ali Saleem has been great, and I got the biggest shock when he and I were nominated together in the second week and he got evicted. He was very entertaining and everybody in the house loved him. He used to switch between Ali and Begum Nawazish, and people found that very entertaining. I hadn’t made my place in people’s hearts that early on, but Ali had… and sometimes I still wonder what happened that day!
As a person Ali is a very refined, and living with him and getting to know him better during those two weeks was a great experience. He’s a very intelligent person, which is not something I can say for most cross-dressers! No wonder he’s so successful in his life…
So, is the show scripted on some level?
A total of 120 cameras used to record our every move 24/7, and around 15 psychiatrists monitored us day in and out. They know how Veena would react to a certain situation, and then they would create that situation, and get the reaction they so desired… which they would then show on television! So yeah, the show is subtly scripted on the editing table. Situations are scripted, but dialogues aren’t. Think of it this way: If you and I are locked in a room and given a task, which we both have different ways of going about, eventually we’re going to argue, right?
After all said and done, it is just a silly commercial show where everything was in the hands of the editors. They never showed me praying even though I used to pray daily… and I don’t blame them, because I had taken money to go on the show. I wasn’t doing it for free. It was their right to choose what to show and what not to show.
You got quite chummy with Salman Khan as well. Are you still friends?
Salman Khan is an awesome guy! I don’t think he’s a very good actor, but as a person, he’s just amazing. He has a strong personality and we’ve become very good friends after ‘Bigg Boss.’ Our chemistry on screen is amazing and it’s still very much on! I’m going to go see him the next time I visit India!
Your reception in India after you came out has been phenomenal. What do you have to say about that?
It’s because India accepted me without judging me that I’m doing five films in Bollywood today. I think I’ve been absolutely blessed as far as my fans are concerned. Even here in Dubai, when I go to a mall, Indians come running to me and tell me how much they love me, and it’s all very overwhelming. Indians accepted me and showed me the kind of respect I would have loved to get from my Pakistani fans too. Still, I’m very proud of the fact that my success in Pakistan, as well as my success in India and the world has been out of my own initiative. Whatever I’ve achieved I’ve achieved on my own accord. I don’t have a man behind me who’s supporting me, and you have no idea how liberating that is!
Your welcome in Pakistan was on the contrary, though. How did you handle that?
It was during the first interview I gave in India after coming out of the house that I was told that while the Indians have fallen in love with me, Pakistan people have actually issued fatwas against me! It was the biggest shock of my life, believe you me! I mean seriously, do the Maulvis here have nothing better to do than issue fatwas against women who have nothing to do with them? Before going in I was asked to bring a swimming costume along as there was a pool in the house, but I refused because I knew I wouldn’t go on air wearing a swimming costume! I knew my limits and I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong on the show, and yet, here I was with a fatwa handing like a sword on my head!
Let’s talk about the infamous Kamran Shahid show. Did you have any idea before arriving at the studio that he’s be grilling you like that?
Gosh, don’t remind me! I didn’t even know Mufti Sahab would be joining us on the show, let alone attacking me with such baseless allegations! It was a live show, and Kamran and everybody had planned the whole thing out and knew exactly how they were going to corner me. It was my first appearance on Pakistani television after coming back from India, and honestly speaking; I wasn’t expecting them to be so brutal. It seemed as if these men had promised themselves that they would prove me wrong somehow or the other that day… and what was more infuriating was that both of them were absolutely clueless about ‘Bigg Boss’!
When you’re on live TV and you’re being bombarded with all these nonsensical claims, you don’t get a lot of time to think, but I distinctly remember thinking right then that this was it: that as soon as I would get out of the studio, someone would shoot me in the name of “honour”! In the end it was a matter of those two clueless men winning and proving me wrong or me winning and proving them wrong… and I knew I had to stand up for myself!
What does Mufti Sahab have to do with entertainment anyway? Why does he watch TV and observe Veena Malik’s “husn-e-jamal” (physical beauty)? Who gave him the right to talk about my beauty and honour, especially when he claimed he hadn’t even seen the show? Why was he even talking to me?
As far as Kamran goes, I know very well what his family background is like. He had no right to corner me like that and bombard me with accusations. I’ve been very generous with him in not opening my mouth about him and his family…
And then Syed Noor came on the show the next day and you had a falling out with him too…
Yes! Do you believe the nerve of the guy!? Syed Noor preaching modesty and teaching me how to conduct myself has got to be the joke of the century! Seriously, has he met himself!? This is a man who’s spent his whole life making his wife dance! He presents his wife as a tawaif (prostitute) to the whole world via his movies, and then has the nerve to lecture me when I haven’t even done anything!
If Pakistani culture allows men to play the role of a pimp and sell their wives on screen to make money, then I’m sorry, I can’t and will not embrace it!
Any message for these men after ten months?
Unfortunately, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t treat sick people. I don’t have any message for these mentally sick men.
People have often accused you of misrepresenting Pakistan in India. That you had a certain responsibility and you failed to realize that. What’s your answer to that?
I’ve heard this before, and I find it utterly hilarious! Tell me, had the producers of the show approached the government of Pakistan or had the approached Veena Malik? Was it the government that had sent me to represent the country in India? Grow up, people… I’m an entertainer and I don’t claim to be anything else!
People want our films to be seen throughout the world; do they represent Pakistan well enough? Do the other actresses who’ve done horrible Bollywood movies represent Pakistan? Do our politicians and all the shady Islamic organizations that are doing god knows what behind their holy façade represent Pakistan? Wake up and read the statistics, people! Do you have any idea what the annual consumption of alcohol is in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Don’t target without thinking… I’m an actor, I got an offer from another country to do some work there, and I accepted that offer. According to me, I did everything within my limits and I have no regrets whatsoever.
It’s very simple, really. If you don’t like Veena Malik and her work then don’t watch her! I’m not forcing you to do anything for me! Just switch the channel when I come on, because it just doesn’t make any sense if you love watching me and then continue to criticize me as well!
Any grievances that your fans should know about?
Not at all! I’ve actually met a lot of Pakistanis both in Pakistan and abroad who call me a hero. I distinctly remember the article you wrote about me in which you called me “Veena: Warrior Princess”! There’s an enlightened class of people who know that these little things don’t make or break the reputation of a country, and I’m thankful to them for their support. Whatever I did on the show was my own responsibility, and I own up to it a hundred percent. I love Pakistan because it’s my home, and I hope the people of my country continue to love me too!
Tell me about all the work offers you received in India after ‘Bigg Boss’?
It literally started raining offers in India after I came out of the ‘Bigg Boss’ house. I was offered to do Fear Factor, Comedy Circus, Love Lockup, the Soyamwar show, and a celebrity cooking show, but I refused them all. I think so far I’ve refused eight major mainstream shows for Indian television because I want to do more work in Bollywood now.
And have there been any solid Bollywood offers to keep you busy?
Yes, I’ve actually signed a total of five films already, three of which are already being shot. I think they’ll be wrapped up by December, after which I’ll be able to concentrate on the other projects that are in the pipeline. Two of the films are comedies, and they’re called ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Daal May Kuch Kaala,’ in which I’m playing a double role. It’s not confirmed yet, but Salman Khan and Sohail Khan may make a guest appearance in ’Daal Main Kuch Kaala’! The third movie is called ‘Life 50-50,’ and it’s very close to my heart because it’s a serious story about a girl and how she faces the challenges of life.
This past one year has been hectic, but I’m loving it! It’s not just that I’m happy with the work and recognition, the money is very good too. In India, I’m making more money in one month than I made in Pakistan in a year… and that’s really something, isn’t it!?
You’re now based in Dubai. How does that work for you? What do you miss most about life in Pakistan?
Dubai is the perfect place to work from. Traveling to both India and Pakistan is easy, although I haven’t been to visit Pakistan in a long time now because of the death threats I received. I miss everything about Pakistan; I miss my family and my home. I had made such a beautiful house for myself and it’s such a pity I can’t live there. I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of people called my house the White House and I adored it! Today it is empty and locked up. I miss spending time on my balcony and don’t even get me started about my six dogs that now live with my mom.
I’ve recently bought a very nice penthouse in Dubai and I’m blessed with everything money could buy, but still my soul is not happy here. I even miss driving on the streets of Lahore… Gosh, you’ve made me all emotional now!
When are you planning on coming back?
Not at the moment, because frankly, I wouldn’t feel safe in Pakistan right now. A threat’s a threat, and even though I strongly believe in God and his plans, I’m a human after all…
Does that mean we’re not going to see you on Pakistani television either?
No, you will! Geo and Express have both approached me with a couple of good offers to do shows from Dubai. I haven’t said yes because I’m still thinking about it, but I’m sure I’ll be doing one of them soon. It’s been a year since I last did something for Pakistan and I want to start working here again soon. The shows will be very time consuming, and since I’ve signed all these films in India, I still need to weigh my wings before giving them a solid yes. Other than that, there’s another surprise for my fans but I can’t give you any hints as yet! I’ll just let you know it has something to do with India, Pakistan, UAE and UK together, and it’s big!
There’s also an organization called ‘Women in Power’, and I plan to start working with them soon as well. The work will mainly be concerned with empowerment of women. Pakistani women seriously need to learn to stand up for themselves and speak out against oppressive elements in their society.
Have you been watching the recent Pakistani movies?
Not really. This might sound funny coming from an actress, but I can’t stand Indian and Pakistani movies. I find them to be too predictable and senseless. People went crazy after ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ but I couldn’t sit through them. I think I was only able to see the first 10 minutes and then I walked out! I think all three Khans of Bollywood are more over-actors than actors! Look at Shaan in Pakistan, he’s terrible! Movies influence your life and thinking process. Why damage yourself by watching something crappy?
You haven’t exactly been very luck-in-love, so to speak. Are you happy with what you and Ashmit Patel have going on between you both?
Yeah, I haven’t exactly been lucky when it comes to love. Both Babrak Shah and Mohammad Asif were terrible mistakes, but I’ve moved on in my life… I’m a lot calmer and relaxed now. The relationship ended awfully with Babrak; he got jealous and very abusive. And then Asif had the same issues. I was richer and more successful than him, and men can rarely handle that! Still, I feel God’s been very kind to me and I still strongly believe in love. I have found a dear friend in Ashmit Patel and he takes very good care of me. We don’t want to jinx our relationship by giving it a name yet, though. The men before him didn’t deserve Veena Malik, but he’s an amazing guy and we’re very happy together.