'I don't mind living in a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it' – Marilyn Monroe.
This quote, perhaps more than any other, captures Veena Malik's perennial angst. An anguish brought on by the constant stereotyping & objectification at the hands of an often chauvinistic 'man's world'. One that has reduced this faceted artist, to a mere one sided object-of-titillation. An unwarranted, harsh trap that can be both professionally damaging and personally agonizing.
This then, for her fans and for the world, is the real Veena Malik. The artist behind the glamorous facade, the grounded woman behind the mercurial persona, the sensitive, aware, thinking, mature, talented, and most significantly – human, Veena.
The Early Years
Born into a modest armed forces & farming family; Veena's arrival into this world on the 26th of February, 1987, made her number 3, among a large sibling-gang of 7! Seeing her child-like mother, herself just 15 years old, being married and having 3 children (including herself) in quick succession;
Veena observed up-close, the travails of early child-rearing and the difficulties that a less than adequate income presented. The manifestations of this hard life, were equally compelling. Sibling rivalry & jealousy, long stints of nomadic travel & stay, and too much time spent away from her parents; characterized Veena's formative years.
A childhood, bereft of the innocent & warm cocoon of the maternal embrace. By her own account, “By 5th standard I thought my grandmother, was my mother”!
Mercifully, it wasn't all bad news. In the midst of her rather simple living in the village of Anayatbad in Miyanvali, Veena was becoming quite the 'popular kid'. She had a large group of friends with whom she would develop untenable bonds. Nights would be spent in high drama - “we used to sneak out in the night and play hide and seek.”
It was a spartan lifestyle, a fun-filled preteens, but with a healthy dose of regulation & discipline. Veena's daily routine, far removed from that of a celebrated star's today, was at best, plain. Plain, innocent, orderly, but with lots of fun nonetheless. “We used to get up at 5 in morning and go to mosque to read Quran with a group of girls. Then we'd eat a breakfast of desi ghee parathan, dahi and milk.
My grandmom would then dress me and off I went with all my friends to school, which was a 10 min walk through lush green fields of sugarcane. Our usual entertainment - count stars in the night! This sounds like a fairy tale but this is how life was. Cousins used to visit us. In the evening when visitors used to visit we would spray water on the floor and I remember the fragrance of the mud. Sleeping arrangements were hostel-like. There used to be 15 cots in row. The house was made of mud and there used to be no electricity and we used to burn a lantern. Dadi used to tell us stories while we used to count stars!”
Village life, tough, yet charming. Demanding, yet romantic. But Veena, lost in this innocent time with her friends and her action-packed life in the village, was about to receive a rude shock. A personal set back that would have her confront loss at a rather tender age. A rude awakening, a huge learning, an end, of an era.
“When I was in the 6th grade my dadi fell sick and my abbu got her to Rawalpindi since that is where my parents used to live. Dadi passed away during this period because of kidney failure in CMH hospital where my dad used to work. I was the closet to my dadi and it was only after she was gone, that I slowly started developing love, in fact any kind of real connection, with my family.”
The Turning Point
Perhaps it was her way of dealing with the insurmountable loss of her dadi's passing; perhaps it was her subconscious recognition of the fact that hard work & education alone, would bring her enlightenment and freedom from the clutches of a lower middle class life – Veena plunged herself in her school work and a myriad of other constructive pursuits.
Through middle and high school, Veena excelled both academically and outside of the classroom. Her reputation as a prominent and bright young student, preceded her.
After school, she chose to study Psychology, Sociology and Persian; clearly demonstrating her need to develop a deeper understanding of society, relationships & culture – aspects of her life that had either been lacking, or those her life had been dominated by!
The next turning point in her life would be at the this stage, when she moved in with her father to live with him. A strict disciplinarian owing to work-culture in the armed forces; Veena's life was regulated, time-bound, and methodical. Having said that, it was also one where she continued to flourish, both scholastically, and outside.
Presented with a bevy of small opportunities, Veena grabbed each one. She metamorphosed into an ace athlete – playing and winning constant laurels in Basketball & Track Racing Events. While she was mastering sports by being Football Captain; she balanced this with a surprising dexterity on the intellectual field as well, winning debating competitions, even 'Naat' (religious prayer) competitions!
Once again, we saw a young Veena, absolutely and thoroughly grounded. A spiritual, deep-thinking young person who was far removed from the intellectually isolated media-appointed shroud that covers her infinite innate talents, and true identity, today!
The Changing World
However, it was now time. Fate was about to play its hand and take small-town simple girl and put on her the fast track to a dizzying & celebrated career in glamor & films.
In Veena's own words, this, is how it all began. “while I was in the 9th standard my friends and I, while reading a fashion magazine, decided to send in some of my pictures. It was hardly serious, more a gag to for the hell of it. In fact, being the 'studious' kinds, we just wanted to prove how simple it would be, to start modeling. It was all in fun & jest.
So we searched on the internet and sent some pictures in to a production house. As it turned out to our utter but pleasant surprise; I got shortlisted and before I knew it, did my first TV commercial for a Bank. This first official modeling assignment yielded my very first income – a modest but seemingly huge sum of rupees 5,000, which I wisely split by using 2000 to party with friends, and the remaining 3000, to gift to my mother, like a dutiful daughter!”
Yet again, we could clearly see Veena's sensitive, responsible personality shine through. As someone who had never come into this kind of money, she could just as easily have blown up all of it, but she consciously chose not to, acutely aware of her parents' plight. “My mom did ask me where I got the funds from and I casually said that this was just a fun thing and that I wasn't interested in anything full time.
But, I continued to get many phone calls from the production team which were becoming hard to ignore, though I was avoiding them for a long time because I wanted to focus on my studies.
While watching TV later one day before the 9pm news that commercial went on air and there was pin drop silence! Abbu called me, asked me to finish my dinner. I had butterflies in my stomach and my sisters were equally anxious about what my father might say or do. Abbu asked me how and why this happened and I told him that it was just in fun, promising that it was the first and last time. Thankfully, it ended there – not the career, but that episode with Abbu!”
One thing was plain to see. Both Veena and her family didn't think much of a life in the glamor world. Deeming it trite and shallow; the focus was rather overwhelmingly on academics and scholarly pursuits. But alas, fate had other plans for Veena, and destiny played its final card and ensured that a series of serendipitous events would firmly & permanently plunge Veena into a life in front of the cameras, and in the consistent gaze of the arc-lights.
After her first commercial, time went on and Veena was busy in her life as a young student. But fate had other plans. Pakistan's famous Director/Actor Mr. Jawed Sheikh, managed to track down Veena with great difficulty. He called her home and thankfully Veena's mother received the call. When she returned the school and was told about the call, Veena was ecstatic. She couldn't contain the excitement of being sought after by one of the biggest names in the Pakistani film industry and promptly forgot all the promises made to her Father!
She called back Mr. Sheikh immediately and was told that she was chosen for his next film and would have to leave for the shoot in a weeks time. This was all very new and scary for Veena.
A young girl of 14, who had never even sat on a plane was going to be whisked off to Spain and Switzerland, and would also get paid handsomely for it! The glamor and adventure made her change her mind about not pursing a career in the limelight. She asked her mother and grandmother to convince her I asked my mom to convince my dad. It was ultimately her Grandmother who convinced her father by reminding him that such opportunities and should be taken advantage of.
So within a week, a young girl living a sheltered protected life in rural Pakistan, got her passport made in 2 days and was on a plane to exotic locations like Malaga, Ujmont, Mabaya Beach and Geneva! “It was like living a dream.
It was all so beautiful that I could write a book about it. I couldn’t imagine a debut like this and a better profession than this. I was with chorographer Saroj khan and Jawed Sheikh working in the most expensive film in history of Pakistan!”The film was Yeh Dil Aap Ka Huwa and it catapulted her to superstardom.
The next high points in her career fast and frequent with her next few releases - Tere Pyar Mein released in the year 2002, Koi Tujh Sa Kahan (2005), Kyon Tumse Itna Pyar Hai (2005) and Mohabbatan Saachiyaan (2007). She caught the attention of a pan audience with her performance in the first film production of UAE called Waapsi which was made in Arabic and English and later dubbed into Urdu and Persian.
The film released across the United Kingdom, Iran, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. It continues to show across cinemas.
All through this, Veena's modelling career took of as well. Though her first TVC aired while Veena was still in school, her career continued with brands like Coca Cola, Sunsilk and Misfits, a teen apparel brand. Through her career she has been on the covers of reputed magazines such as She, Visage, Libas, MAG, GT, Women’s Era, Women Own, Fantasy, Showtime and Health.
The Small Screen
Veena wanted to expand her career horizons and zeroed in on Television. Her small creen career started with hosting a TV show called Prime Gupshup, which was programme for the youth. She was then offered a television series called Mirch Masala that turned her from a superstar to a houehold name in Pakistan. In 2007, Veena began hosting Hum Sab Ummeed Se Hain, a socio-political satire which won her a lot of appreciation for her honest and bold expression of the country’s state of affairs.
This political satire crated a media storm worldwide and had UK, US and German television report it as a first in the history of changing Pakistan. The show and her work was not only loved by the public but also appreciated by the government, including President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shukat Aziz. But the monotony of the show got to her and she quit 2 years later.
She followed Hum Sab Umeed Se Hain with Miss Duniya in 2009. This show used comedy to bring up serious issues of common man. It became one of the pioneer shows that could speak openly on television about the political situation of the country.
A popular Indian news channel did a feature on Veena Malik’s political satire based TV shows and the soon the Indian media began to take notice of this fearless, outspoken celebrity. In the year 2010 she was invited to be a part of Bigg Boss season 4.
Veena was one of the final six contestants out of the original fourteen who had participated. She was also a part of the grand finale of the show. Veena then hosted a reality TV show titled Bigg Toss during the 2011 International Cricket World Cup.
Her recent TV show Astaghfar aired on Pakistani television in 2012. The controversial show was first banned due to its outspokenness and then became the most watched show in history of Pakistani TV.
Awards and Honors :
Veena began her life as a perfect student who always topped her classes. She constantly won awards and competitions and even won regional debate completions in Peshawar. This has spilled onto her professional career as well:
National award for best debut yeh dil aapka hua
Bulan award – best debut for yeh dil aapka hua
Nigaar, National & Bolaan AWARDS for best supporting actress in “Yeh dil aapka hua” 2002-2003.
Lux style award for most stylish celebrity in 2007
National award for best actor in mohabttan sacchiyan in 2007
Bulan award - best actor in mohabttan sacchiyan
This fame even made her name trend twice online, making her the first Pakistani girl to ever do so. Despite the fame and awards, Veena says “ I don’t believe in awards, and don’t attend award functions. I have only attended 2 in my entire professional life”
Social Work :
Veena would rather spend her free time to help out the needy and has always done so:
In 2008 -09 she worked with WHO on their polio vaccination campaign. She has travelled across many villages with the World Health Organization as their representative and ambassador spreading awareness among rural women about the importance of their children’s’ health and education.
She adopted two boys Zain and Zafar who were victims of the 2005 earthquake, living in an SOS village. She provided personal finance to them and it resulted in a letter of appreciation to her from the then Chief Minister of that state Mr. Shahbaaz Sharief.
She is also associated with a Cancer Hospital.
She was associated with PETA 2011-12 and pledged her support for animal rights. She joined the organisation and turned completely vegetarian. She believes that a speechless animal is as important as any other higher being and that they should not be butchered and slaughtered just for their meat, skin and other parts.
In 2011 she adopted and continues to sponsor girl child Payal Kamble from Mumbai, who was a victim of human trafficking through the NGO Sahaara Charitable Society in Navi Mumbai and has taken on the responsibility of the girl’s entire education and other expenses till she is ready to face the world on her own.
Veena's career in this unforgiving glamor world just took off. Her filmography, and exact career progression are well chronicled, and can be sought from the chronological tables in this website.
The primary distinction that needs to be made here once again, is that while she consciously chose a path that would balance, if not be completely dominated by 'meaningful & sensitive' work, the work that came her way, and the media attention & branding that befell her, were the diametric opposite.
Contrary to popular belief, the 'sex' tag that she now seems to wear rather casually, was not one that Veena hankered after, but is one that has been thrust upon her – both by industry insiders and by the media. Over time, she has seen unprecedented success in Pakistan, and of late, in India too.
Controversies aside, few know or realize that Veena Malik is actively building towards a 'substantial' career, not one that is led by and only dependent on 'item numbers' or 'sandals'. These, are rather occupational hazards, and NOT her main 'occupation', like many would have us believe.
After participating in Big Boss, her return to her homeland was marred by allegations of misconduct and misrepresentation of her country and religion. She was even put on live trial on TV by Muslim scholar Mufti Abdul Qawi. She abely defended herselff and even garnered media support icludin channels like the BBC and CNN.
There was a huge outcry in response to the Mufti's allegations and the incident trended worldwide. English-Canadian columnist, author, public speaker, radio host and television talk show host Michael Coren called the entire Veena Malik-Mufti Sa’ab episode “A trial of this woman on national TV” In support of her he went on to say that, “She is an independent woman who dared to have a career.” He added, “She is beautiful, bright and brave.”She has also been called The Hero of Liberal Pakistan by media across the world for sticking firm on her ground against all the criticisms and allegations leveled against her
It was widely reported that in July 2011, Veena Malik had an accident and suffered injuries on her shoulder, arms and legs and was admitted in a hospital in Lahore. The truth is that though the car was completely crushed after it rolled over 10 times, she escaped without a single scratch.
Then in December 2011, after doing a photo shoot for FHM magazine, she had to sue them because they published her pictures after photo-shopping her clothes and showing her naked! They doctored he images and didn't even get approval from Veena. She sued FHM for the defamation.
After this media assault, she just couldn't handle the stress and shut herself from the world. After a tiring shoot she checked into a hotel and switched off her mobile. She could not be traced for a few days. Of course, that also stirred up a controversy and it stirred up a hornet's nest. The truth is that she was extremely ill and could not focus on work or anything else at that time.
In 2012 her TV show Astaghfaar aired in Pakistan on weekdays in the Islamic month of Ramadan. The show has been a subject of controversies even before its initiation. The channel previously planned to cancel the show following a public outcry but later decided to air the first six episodes to gauge the reaction of the viewers.
Unexpectedly the show proved to be a TRP churner and generated a hospitable reception from the audience, because the truth always wins!
A recent alleged MMS of her is also a baseless controversy, because it is simply a clip from her upcoming film and is being viewed out of context.
In recent years, Veena has focused deliberately on Films & Television, and is now at the cusp of true recognition. Recognition for her real talents. But all this has not come per chance. It has been through sheer hard work and perseverance.
Now, with a slew of films lined up for release in India; Veena Malik is trending globally on the internet. The task however, is far, far from complete...She did trend thrice internationally in 2011 and was the first Pakistani woman to do so.
Bigg boss marked the beginning of her career in the Indian Film Industry. In 2010, she did a cameo in Mandeep Kumar’s Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya. After the project, she realized that India was like a home away from home. She got recognition, work she was enjoying and it was liberal as well. Her upcoming Hindi movie projects include:
Daal Mein Kuch Kaala Hai where she has performed two item numbers "Mumbai Money Hai" & Madam Malai".
Zindagi 50 50, in which she will be portraying the role of a commercial sex worker
Mumbai 125km by Hemant Madhukar a 3D thriller where she has performed all her stunts and actions sequences.
She has also finally taken a step towards fulfilling her passion, singing. Her first single 'Drama Queen' released recently. She put in a special appearce in a Punjabi song ‘Shabbo’ and is also releasing an album with Sukdeep Grewal, of which ‘AC chala’ is the first single.
THE Enigma – Complete, but Hidden!
Today, what the world knows and sees of Veena Malik is a skewed, one sided, biased, and myopic vision. A media-darling yes, but one who has been covered in a deceptive, single colored cloak of objectification; literally hiding most of her persona, her person, her very raison d'être.
Is Veena Malik sexy? Yes, but she is beautiful too
Is Veena Malik provocative? Yes, but she is thoughtful too
Is Veena Malik a rebel? Yes, but one with meaningful causes too
And it is her singular endeavor now, to come out of the shadow that has veiled and concealed her many true talents thus far. To break free from the shackles of typecasting. To break on through to the other side of all the sleaze, the man-made controversies, the exaggerated tabloid stories – and emerge, the woman that she really is.
Thinker, do-gooder, philanthropist, actor, singer, a woman. One who has worked tirelessly to come out of a humble past filled with struggle and tests. Veena Malik, the complete woman.