Actors are paid to cry on cue, but I couldn't help but reach for a tissue as controversial Pakistani actress Veena Malek struggled to keep her emotions in check.
"At the end of the day, I have not killed anybody. How can you guys be so unfair with me?" said Malek as she dabbed a tear with her finger tipsbefore it could roll down her cheek.
“At the end of the day, I have not killed anybody. How can you guys be so unfair with me?”Share on facebookTweet this
Holed up in a room at the Fortune Plaza Hotel in Al Ghusias, Dubai, the controversy-wracked model-turned-actress was trying to regain her composure following the outrage she sparked with an apparently nude photo shoot for the cover of the December issue of FHM magazine's India edition. The initials "ISI" — normally a reference to Pakistan's security agency — tattooed on her arm, fuelled the scandal further.
"I have not harmed anybody. At least when you make packages in the media to hike up TRPs [TV ratings], have some sympathy for me. I am not a robot or a machine. I have a heart," said Malek, who stands by her assertion that her published images were retouched to show her naked. The psychology graduate, 24, claims that she is the victim.
"Rather than making me a soft target, why don't you accuse the magazine of morphing my pictures?" said an emotional Malek, who claimed that she was equally shocked when she saw the naked pictures splashed in the magazine. "Rather than accusing me of a seeking publicity, people should reconsider and ask themselves whether they are being fair with me."
She is currently in Dubai for a "much-needed break" and plans to ring in 2012 with a dinner and after party at her hotel, during which she will host guests who have paid up to Dh250 per couple to attend.
"It's been the toughest phase in life ...I am scared but I know that I just need to keep faith in myself. Things will eventually clear up in some time. I need some time and I want to request people to stay calm," she added.
Her antics may have caused a rift with family members and her compatriots, but she's not willing to give up on her budding career. Very soon she will be hunting for a groom — that too on television, with the reality show Swayamvar 4: Veena Ka Vivah.
"Right now, I am single. Even after two broken engagements, I believe in true love. I think the whole universe works on love."
Excerpts from tabloid!'s tell-all chat:
Why did you choose Dubai to ring in 2012?
The option was between UK and Dubai. But Dubai won because it's a place I come to frequently and it's like my second home. I get good money in my hands and get to celebrate this New Year's with people from different cultures around me. I have been working throughout the year and I just want to have some fun now.
It has been an eventful and controversial 2011. Did you expect it to be such a massive year?
Honestly, no. I began my career in India like an intern with the reality show Bigg Boss. Regarding controversies, I have been working round the clock but everything I did became such a big deal. If you ask me, there was no need to make it all so big. Even the photo shoot with the magazine, they morphed my pictures. I call it a tragedy rather than a controversy. I am a model and photo shoots are my bread and butter. Contrary to what people think, I was wearing clothes. They doctored my pictures into nude ones because my upper body was covered with huge tattoos. But I hope next year brings something new and positive.
Are you worried about the death threats that you have been receiving?
It's tragic and sad. The threats started when I began work on the reality show [Bigg Boss]. I don't blame the show producers because maximising TRPs is the idea behind programmes like Bigg Boss or Big Brother all around the world. It is their right to show us in a light that they see fit. All the threats and fatwas that I received after that photo shoot are being reported by the media alone. If you ask me, I haven't received a single telephone call threatening me directly. I have not received any paper or legal notice from any country. It's all media hype. The only threats I received was immediately after Bigg Boss. But when I cleared the air in Pakistan about reality shows showing only five per cent of personality, they understood it. Even then, the threat was in the form of a letter sent to a media house by extremist groups. They chose to publish it and I did not get that letter of threat directly.
So you don't fear for your life now?
I will be lying if I said I didn't — especially when there are so many speculations running wild in the media. Of course I am scared. But I believe in God and my conscience is clear. When I ask myself whether I made a mistake, I know I have my own answers and clarifications.
If you could go back in time, would you erase the photo shoot episode?
The one thing I regret doing is posing for FHM. It's like they cheated on me — big time. I have already faced so much in my life they shouldn't have done this to me. But if I had known their mentality, I would not have done the photo shoot with that magazine. When I looked at my photographs, I was shocked too. The first thing I asked my manager when I saw the published photos was: "Are you kidding me? Is this a joke? But this is not the picture that I shot for." I had even asked FHM to send me the final images they would print so that I could sign the contract and give them the authority to publish it. They did not send me any images, I did not sign up any contract and they put those pictures without my consent. It's kind of a fraud and cheating. My case is in the court and I have sued them. They say they have a video of the photo shoot, but why are they not showing it? Why are they keeping it in a locker? Please bring that video because I know there was no video shoot that day and all I did was a still photo shoot.
What made you stencil an ISI tattoo on your arm? Did you not expect to stoke controversy with such a tattoo?
FHM came up with that idea and said they wanted to do it all in a playful way. See, the intentions from both sides were not to harm or cause embarrassment. FHM told me that I was the youth icon of sorts and that they wanted us to move on from this obsession with ISI. For example, if anything goes wrong in a person's everyday life, they blame it on ISI. We wanted to show that we have moved on. We did all this in a playful manner and people shouldn't take it so seriously. I did not put any negative remark underneath the tattoo. It was just an abbreviation ISI and I did not put India, Pakistan or US underneath it. And when I told Kabeer [Sharma, editor of FHM India] that people would associate ISI with the spy agency in Pakistan, he asked me if I knew about it. I said I knew vaguely about them. Just like we have the army or the navy, I knew we had an agency ISI. At the end of the day, I am a model and an actor. Also Kabeer told me, "Look, Veenaji, if you google ISI there are thousands of other institutions with this name. We are not putting ISI Pakistan or ISI India. It's just an abbreviation".
I don't claim to be the most intelligent person. Even I could get played. My intentions were pure, clear and positive. But I don't know about the intentions behind FHM. The ISI tattoo was done in a playful manner but I am upset that the pictures were morphed. That's what embarrasses me. And people have begun writing whatever they want. They call it a publicity stunt. But I want to tell them that I am the one who is the target here.
[When contacted by tabloid!, Kabeer Sharma, Editor of FHM India, responded to Malek's allegations: "We don't want to comment on any new mindless allegations that she has come up with."]
Do you think it's safe to go back home since the controversy has sparked outrage in Pakistan?
Of course. I am a Pakistani national and my government has always protected me. I am aware of the backlash in Pakistan but there is a section of people who have voiced their support for me. Yes, I am scared but at the same time I know that's my country and I want to go back to my people. Most of all, I am missing my home.
Has the Bollywood fraternity extended their support?
There are a few girls who keep speaking rubbish. But when you look at the larger entertainment group in India, they are fond of me. Bollywood and India has given me so much love. If I walk on the streets in India today, I have women and children running after me screaming, "Veena, we love you" and that's overwhelming. India has given me so much love and respect. It has also given me a career. I am also getting plenty of offers now. Next year is going to be huge and I have three films up for release. I also have an item number called Channo — with a lot of oomph — hitting the screens. My two films —Daal Mein Kuch Kaala Hai and Zindagi 50-50— are up for release next year. In Zindagi 50-50, I play a sex worker and it's based on characters that you find in the streets. It's a female-centric role.
Do you think signing on Swayamvar 4: Veena Ka Vivah is a good idea considering it may fuel your controversial image? Will you get married for real?
Swayamvar is based on a beautiful idea and revolves around a concept that brings back a very old tradition in India. I want to give love one more chance. The idea of meeting prospective grooms from different parts of the world is interesting. We are going international this year and we have contestants from various parts of the world such as Dubai, Pakistan and India. I am super excited because every girl out there wants a good life partner.
My first two engagements didn't work out. In the first one, he wasn't loyal and in the second one he was a US-based guy who was 10 years older than me. But he wanted me to quit my work and settle in the US. But I am not a piece of furniture that you can just change my colour and structure. I will only quit if I want to. But this time around, I am looking for pristine, unconditional love. The person should love me for who I am.