Say ‘Hello!’ to Pakistan’s glamorous side | Pakistan Today

Say ‘Hello!’ to Pakistan’s glamorous side

Pakistan may be best known around the world for religious extremists, political unrest and its recent devastating floods. But behind the miserable headlines is another world of Bollywood actresses, cricketing superstars and a wealthy elite that jets from Lahore or Karachi to Dubai, London and Toronto.
Hello! magazine is to launch a Pakistan edition soon to tap into the country’s growing appetite for celebrity news.
Its publisher, Zahraa Saifullah, said that she wanted to promote a more upbeat image of the country.
“The heart of our culture is vibrant, effusive and cosmopolitan,” she said in a publisher’s note announcing the new venture.
“It is unfortunate that, of late, Pakistan’s image has been dulled by the shadow of bad press. But this is not a reality for Pakistanis, who feel misrepresented by the ubiquitous fire and brimstone of media hype.”
Instead, she promises that Hello! Pakistan – the latest franchise of the long-running Spanish magazine Hola! – will tell upbeat stories of the country’s rich and famous, their homes, artwork and favourite getaways.
“We now have fashion weeks, Oscar nods, and celebs that flourish internationally,” she said.
“Moreover, our expat community is out there doing exciting things, most of which go undocumented.”
There will be no shortage of readers. Bina Shah, a writer based in Karachi, said that Pakistanis had a deep love of celebrity news dating back to the visit of Jackie Kennedy in 1962.
“Ever since then, people have been hungry for celebrity news. The UK version of Hello! sells out in the supermarkets every week,” she said.
She added that whatever the role of religious leaders, there was a vibrant party scene in Lahore and Karachi that would help fill Hello! Pakistan.
“Pakistan is just the same as anywhere else, in terms of having super rich and super famous people living their glamorous lives no matter what else is going on,” she said.
Hello! Pakistan, with its celebration of luxury lifestyle, is certain to fall foul of religious leaders who waste no opportunity to denounce creeping Westernisation.
Professor Khursheed Ahmed, a senior figure in the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party, said that the magazine would run into trouble if it went against Pakistan’s conservative religious values.
He said, “I’m a religious man and this does not sound like my cup of tea. If it violates the norms of our society, then it could well attract anger.”
Away from the lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border, where the Pakistan Taliban have attacked cinemas, CD shops and barbers who shave beards, this is a country with a voracious appetite for gossip and a sensationalist media only too happy to oblige.
Every weekend, newspapers carry party supplements, packed with photographs of glamorous guests at restaurant launches, fashion shows and club openings.
The antics of a small number of actresses who have made it in Bollywood are a staple of the celebrity pages.
At the end of last year, Veena Malik filled acres of newsprint when she apparently posed naked for an Indian magazine.
If that was not controversial enough for a conservative country, she also had the letters ISI stencilled on her arm in a cheeky reference to the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
The weddings of cricket stars are also covered in minute detail. And Jemima Khan, the former wife of Imran Khan, is always a massive draw for local journalists whenever she visits.
Details of the first edition of the monthly magazine, due to reach newsstands next month, have been kept secret.
But a dummy front page promises an exclusive interview with Nargis Fakhri, a model who recently made her Bollywood debut in the smash hit film Rockstar and has made headlines ever since amid rumours of a romance with one India’s most popular actors.
PHIL BERNARD-CARTER ADDS: If you were asked to play a word-association game on the subject of Pakistan, what would you say?
Cricket, perhaps. Terrorism, obviously. Natural disasters, poverty, violence, madrassas and corruption would probably feature heavily too.
I doubt, however, that you’d opt for Hello! magazine. And yet that glossy, global brand of gossip, fashion and celebrity parties announced that it will be launching a Pakistani edition.
Will it be an April 1 edition only, a collector’s item featuring spoof photo shoots of the generals’ bathrooms? Or do they actually know what they’re doing?
I’m no expert on international magazine marketing, nor am I a celebrity fashionista – I am, in fact, a management consultant.
But I recently spent a year working in Islamabad. And, despite my distinctly unglossy role in the Pakistan National Highways Authority, I met just the kind of people who will be gracing – as well as reading – its pages.
Before moving there, I called a British Pakistani friend living in Islamabad to ask her what it was really like.
“Terrible,” she said. Oh, no, I thought, running through a mental checklist of bombs, kidnappings and beheadings.
“Oh, yes,” she continued. “The road blocks have become so bad that I was 40 minutes late for the theatre last night.” My fears diminished; I am often late for the theatre anyway.
Unlike many expats in Islamabad, I lived between the layers of Pakistani society. My colleagues, with whom I shared a small house, were middle-class professionals from provincial cities – maybe the Hello! readers of the future.
Socially, thanks to some introductions from my friend, I was lucky to find myself on the fringes of a scene that was erudite, glamorous and remarkably diverse.
At one party, I found myself talking to “Pakistan’s most famous female-impersonator chat show host” – there is more than one – when we were joined by an Iranian diplomat who was surprised to find himself harangued by a six-foot man with fabulous hair and rather shapely calves.
A consummate pro – one hopes he is moving to Washington DC soon – he artfully moved the conversation to cricket.
I was often advised to steer clear of religion and politics – advice that the Hello! editors will no doubt be happy to follow.
They will find no shortage of other subjects. The fashion industry in Pakistan is booming, with competing fashion weeks in Lahore and Karachi.
Indeed, my fiancée had her wedding dress made by a Pakistani dress-maker with the diva instincts of Jean Paul Gaultier.
In larger international hotels, beauty spas often serve three generations of chic ladies. And the men are just as image-conscious: Islamabad appears to be the hair-replacement capital of the world.
Every time I returned to Britain, I would receive surreptitious shopping lists from Pakistani friends looking for the latest lotions.
And, of course, if Hello! ever finds itself short of stories, it can always tell its readers what their cricket heroes had for breakfast.
If you thought sportspeople in Britain were overly venerated, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve been to Pakistan.
Sportsmen (and they are only men) are beyond reproach. Colourfully decorated trucks that, in keeping with Islamic law, bear no images of people or animals, make an exception for Imran Khan, the former cricket captain.
So when some cricketers took bribes for match-fixing, the communal shame was palpable.
A similar deference is rarely applied to other areas of national life. If there is one thing apart from cricket that unites a fractured country, it is gossip.
Pakistan has a surprisingly vibrant and independent media that feeds a voracious appetite for controversy.
There are at least seven 24-hour news channels in Urdu. Footage of suicide attacks creates a sense of fear and powerlessness, but if you really want to put the cat among the pigeons, you broadcast pictures of the president’s extravagant interior decoration or racy photos of Bollywood actress Veena Malik.
Many of the Western stereotypes about Pakistan are grounded in reality. When I first arrived, I naively mistook distant gunfire for fireworks.
And there were times – for instance, when an American CIA contractor shot two people in Lahore – when people would eye me suspiciously if I ventured out of areas frequented by foreigners.
Security is a constant concern. When protests erupted, it was safer to stay at home, and relying on a driver to get around is more inconvenient than glamorous.
But for the most part, Islamabad is an international city with the sleepy feel of a purpose-built capital. No one will argue that life is easy.
But the country’s capacity for paradox, its appetite for heroes, villains and gossip is how it deals with the difficult political realities.
Hello! will not achieve world peace, but it has a place in this complex discourse – and it brings an opportunity to show the world a more glitzy side of Pakistan that is overlooked by the world’s media.
AP ADDS: Pakistan is better known for bombs than bombshells, militant compounds than opulent estates.
A few enterprising Pakistanis hope to alter that perception with the launch of a local version of Hello! – the well-known celebrity magazine.
They plan to profile Pakistan’s rich and famous: the dashing cricket players, voluptuous Bollywood stars and powerful politicians who dominate conversation in the country’s ritziest private clubs and lowliest tea stalls.
They also hope to discover musicians, fashion designers and other new talents who have yet to become household names.
“The side of Pakistan that is projected time and time again is negative,” said Zahraa Saifullah, the CEO of Hello! Pakistan. “There is a glamorous side of Pakistan, and we want to tap into that.”
But celebrating the lives of Pakistan’s most prosperous citizens is not without its critics in a country where much of the population lives in poverty.
Advertising one’s prosperity could be risky as well, since kidnappings for ransom are on the rise and attracting attention from Islamist militants can mean death.
Wajahat Khan, a consulting editor at Hello! Pakistan, said that they were cognisant of the sensitivity of publishing a glamour magazine in a conservative Muslim country where many people are struggling and planned to be “socially responsible and culturally aware.”
“We are trying to be happy in a war zone,” Khan said at a news conference with Saifullah and other members of the magazine’s editorial staff. “We are trying to celebrate what is still alive in a difficult country.”
Khan said that they would do everything they could to protect the security of the people they profile, but he wasn’t overly concerned.
“I don’t think terrorist networks are going to be reading Hello! anytime soon,” he said.
Pakistan already has a series of local publications that chronicle the lives of the well-heeled in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, especially as they hop between lavish parties.
But the producers of Hello! Pakistan hope the magazine’s international brand and greater depth will attract followers.
Hello! was launched in 1988 by the publisher of Spain’s Hola! magazine and is now published in 150 countries.
It’s well-known for its extensive coverage of Britain’s royal family and once paid $14 million (Rs 1.27 billion) in a joint deal with People magazine for exclusive pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn twins.
The market for English-language publications in Pakistan is fairly small. Most monthly and weekly magazines sell no more than 3,000 copies, said Khan, the consulting editor.
But they hope to tap into the large Pakistani expatriate markets in the United Kingdom and the Middle East as well.
Hello! Pakistan will be published once a month and will cost about $5.50 (Rs 500), twice as much as what many poor Pakistanis earn in a day.
The first issue will be published in mid-April and will focus on the Pakistani fashion scene.
Saifullah, who grew up watching her mother and grandmother read Hello! as she hopped between London and Karachi, said that it took her two years to convince the magazine to publish a local version in Pakistan.
“They were concerned about whether Pakistan was ready for a magazine like this,” she said.
But Saifullah thinks the timing is perfect to showcase Pakistan’s too often hidden treasures, citing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who recently became the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar for a documentary about the plight of female victims of acid attacks in the country.
“We want to tap into the aesthetically beautiful, the athletic, the fashionable,” said Saifullah. “There is so much going on daily that nobody ever covers. It’s totally unexplored.”

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