For some, the name Ali Saleem might not ring a bell.
That’s because Ali’s claim to fame on primetime television was his alter-ego, Begum Nawazish Ali, the gossip-loving divorcee who flirted and skirted her way through everything from politics to entertainment news.
Despite controversies, she became a superstar. But now Ali’s back as himself, and he plans to dominate airwaves with his new show, The Late Late Show with Ali Saleem.
1) The Late, Late Show with Ali Saleem is your comeback after a long hiatus. Why did you stay away from the limelight for so long?
Ali Saleem: Thing is, I’ve been hosting as Begum on and off since 2005. I had a lot of fun with Begum, it was a great run. But as an actor, performing the same character over and over again can get monotonous. I had explored every aspect of Begum’s character and as time went on it just wasn’t fun anymore. It was becoming tedious and laborious so I stopped.
In 2015 I was away from Karachi. I was shooting upcoming drama Mor Mahalin Lahore and that was an eight-month shoot during which I basically had to relocate to Lahore. I have a really interesting character in Mor Mahal, and I had a great time working with Sarmad Sehbai and Sarmad Khoosat, and that’s where most of my year went.
After that I was basically chilling, travelling a bit. That’s when I was approached by Dawn with the idea of doing a morning show. After a bit of a discussion we decided a late night show would suit my personality better (laughs). And so we set about trying to figure out what the show would look like.
2) So what is this new show going to look like? Will we see Begum again?
Ali Saleem: We decided that Begum had been done to death — though that’s probably not the best phrase to use (laughs). So someone said to me, why don’t you just play yourself?
I liked that idea.
Ever since I started working as an actor, from 1998 to date, I had never been asked to be ‘myself’ — just Ali Saleem. I now feel like I have the confidence to do that. I don’t need to wear to wear heavy saris and makeup to impress people anymore. I can just be me.
3) Wait, does that mean your show won’t feature any alter egos? We heard two characters called Poppy and KT were going to make an appearance. Tell us a little more about them?
Ali Saleem: Well, I’m an actor and I do need an outlet. So while I’m mostly going to be ‘myself’ I’ll also introduce a few characters. This will showcase my acting prowess as well as add a little visual variety.
I’ve done enough drag in my life that I didn’t need to dabble in that with this show but then again some of my fans love me because I make a beautiful woman.
So my first character (not alter ego) is called Poppy. Poppy is a fun, loaded aunty who lives in Lahore. She’s a shaukeen aunty. She’s a socialite, a party animal and she loves to gossip. She has an opinion about everything and everyone.
Then there’s KT, or Khalida Tiwana. She’s a female polictican elected to the National Assemnly on a reserve seat, so, you know, she didn’t have to work very hard to get where she is. She’s from the landed elite and she’s a vocal member of the opposition. She blames everything on the government. Qandeel Baloch didn’t get to do her strip tease? Blame it on the government!
4) Who are you going to feature on your show? Who are you most excited to meet?
Ali Saleem: Well, I’m most thrilled about the new wave of cinema in Pakistan. You know, I’ve seen actors struggle to make ends meet in Pakistan. When I was doing my act as Begum Nawazish there were all of 5 actresses and 3 actors in Pakistan! But now entertainment has become a serious business. People are getting paid lots of money.
Now we have to take our entertainers as seriously as Hollywood takes their celebrities. So I intend to feature lots of young Pakistani talent. I can’t even list all their names, if I do you’ll run out of space.
But these are cinema’s new faces, people who we have seen but we don’t really know them yet.
I’m going to highlight them. It’s almost my responsibility.
The Late Late Show with Ali Saleem airs on Dawn News TV, with the first episode going on air tonight, on 26th March 2016.