It’s December 2011, and Pakistani model Veena Malik is distraught. She has taken refuge at a hotel in Dubai following a photoshoot for FHM India in which she appeared nude with the letters ISI - used to refer to Pakistan’s intelligence agency - tattooed on her arm.
The magazine cover brought her global attention and condemnation, and as we meet she is aggressively defending herself, claiming that the images were doctored. Tears roll down her cheeks; a second later she fights back, saying that she won’t let any controversy destroy her budding Bollywood career.
Cut to January 2014. Malik is now Veena Assad Khan Khattak, clad in a demure white and blue Arzu Gul anarkali with a white dupatta (veil) pinned to her head; draped on her arm is her husband of 28 days — Assad Bashir Khan Khattak.
“She’s simple, straightforward and a clean-hearted girl,” said Khattak, a businessman based in Dubai for the last 14 years. They got married in a nikkah ceremony in Dubai on December 25, after a whirlwind courtship and are now sitting in the offices of Light Speed Travel and Tourism, Omar Group in Al Nahda, the travel agent who is organising their trip to Makkah.
His impressions of this Pakistani model may be in stark contrast to how the world sees her: It is safe to say that Malik has been a magnet for scandals for most part of her adult life. To date: Her acrimonious affair with the Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Asif — who was sentenced to jail in Britain for match fixing; her on-screen intimate encounter with Ashmit Patel in Bigg Boss season 4; and her vitriolic outburst on a Pakistani television channel, where she slammed a religious scholar for accusing her of insulting her country and Islam. Recently, she accused her former Indian manager, Prashant Singh, of blackmailing her and hacking into her Twitter and her Facebook accounts.
However, when tabloid! met the newly-wedded couple, they cut a picture of a happily-ever-after union.
“Life is going great. It’s a different world for me. When you are in showbiz you are on a run. It’s like you are part of a race and all of a sudden you stop somewhere. Being able to do that is the most beautiful feeling. I am enjoying that phase. I feel so calm and relaxed,” said Malik.
She has now declared that her bold, sexy days are behind her. From now on she will only accept films that send out a strong social message and are family-friendly. Though she doesn’t fully attribute the change to her husband, she admits that he propelled that U-turn in her life. The two met at the US consulate in Dubai in early December. A cup of coffee later he invited her to meet his family the next day. Ten days later he proposed marriage.
“After my marriage I have already said no to four films that I signed at the end of 2013 and have asked the producers to excuse me from those projects. I will be a part of the entertainment industry, but on our terms… I have plans to study Islam further. I want to enrol into a university,” said Malik, looking to her husband lovingly, asking him to make a list of good colleges in Dubai. On Thursday the couple set out for Saudi Arabia to be a part of Umrah, a pilgrimage to Makkah.
“The choices that I make today are making me a peaceful person. I feel as if I am on the right track. Wearing a dupatta or studying Islam or meeting Assad, I feel change has come in my life. After getting married to Assad, I met the great scholar Tariq Jameel… I am at peace now,” said Malik, with her hand clasped tightly in her husband’s. She adds that as a child she had sworn that she would embark on Umrah only with her life partner.
“I have always wanted a white wedding and Assad is giving me that in the US. I feel so blessed because whatever I have wished for has happened in my life. I have goosebumps thinking about my life right now,” said Malik.
So did her former manager’s allegations that she was his live-in partner in Mumbai and owed him closure mar their happiness?
“He is a sick guy and he needs treatment. I would offer him free treatment… but we don’t care about it as we don’t have time to think about him,” said Khattak, jumping to his wife’s defence.
Malik calls him a “slightly disturbed human being”. The 2011 Malik would have probably jumped at this opportunity and issued a string of provocative statements. But the new Malik will not let anyone come between her and happiness.
“Whatever he has done is unethical and it’s a crime. We have taken legal action,” said Malik. When tabloid! contacted Singh in Mumbai, he claimed that he had taken the drastic step of posting intimate pictures of them when she openly questioned his sexual orientation.
“We were as good as married… I didn’t love the brand Veena Malik, I loved the girl,” he said.
He may be grappling with a brutal break-up, but Malik has begun a new chapter in her life. After a white wedding in Washington, the couple intends to return to Dubai for a ten-day celebration.
“Earlier I used to find falling in love such a cliche. My friends used to tease me that the sky would fall down the day I got married. But you know what, the day he proposed on a beach here, it started raining,” said Malik with a giggle.
“The sky opened up for you. It was the sign that you were looking for. But seriously, she is clean-hearted and respectable,” said Khattak.
His wife returns the compliment with: “He didn’t go down on bended knees but he was so direct and straightforward. He just held my hands and said he wanted to get married the next day. That to me was the most romantic proposal that a girl could get.”