Everyone is born naked, some achieve nakedness and some have nakedness thrust upon them. Or so Veena Malik might contend.
The Pakistani starlet bookended this year by being in the news for all the wrong reasons in both January and December and yet managing to garner as many supporters as detractors.
Her biggest splash came when India’s FHM magazine unveiled its December issue, featuring her ostensibly completely nude on the cover and with an ‘ISI’ tattoo on her arm. This of course led to jokes referencing US Admiral Mike Mullen’s notorious phrase, “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence”. But such was the heat generated by this cover that the morality brigade calling for (of all things) her head couldn’t decide which was the greater sin: a Pakistani woman posing naked in India or the mocking of ISI. Malik claimed that while she had done a “bold”, “topless” shoot, the magazine had “morphed” her pictures to make her seem completely nude. Reports of lawsuits and counter-suits followed, with some claiming the brouhaha was a publicity stunt for both her benefit and FHM’s.
But Veena Malik had already achieved both fame and notoriety by the beginning of 2011 because of media commentary about her stint on the Indian reality show Bigg Boss. She was criticised by the defenders of Pakistani chastity for cavorting on the show with Indian actor Ashmit Patel, while her articulate, proto-feminist defence on television garnered unexpected support from the liberal intelligentsia. Meanwhile, her televised harangue against a hapless cleric (who claimed not to have seen what he was happy to comment on) led to a musical remix of it going viral, and her oft-repeated line, “Mufti Sahib, yeh kya baat hui?” entered the popular consciousness as an all-occasion exclamation.
It’s all been a bit of a leg-up, so to speak, on 2010, when Malik’s celebrity banked on her bitter falling-out with cricketer paramour Mohammad Asif. Sometimes even bad publicity is good publicity, and Malik’s star shines too brightly for it to be ignored. But even she must be surprised at how she has become, quite literally, an embodiment of Pakistan’s liberal-conservative social divide.