KARACHI – Hello! magazine has arrived in Pakistan, on a mission to celebrate the country’s glamorous side – one that is missing all too often in international news coverage – and to help develop a home-grown celebrity culture.
A clink of jewellery, a tinkle of glass, a hushed audience and a lit-up runway – and Hello! Pakistan is launched in Karachi, with an extravagant four-day fashion show.
Publishers hope the magazine, which will hit newsstands in mid-April, will – by showcasing gloss and glamour – dispel some of the gloomier images foreigners associate with Pakistan.
“We will highlight the fashionable and the athletic, the intellectual and the aesthetic,” says Zahraa Saifullah.
Pakistan already has a number of local publications whose glossy pages are devoted to showcasing the weekend engagements of the Pakistani elite.
But the team at Hello! Pakistan – the country’s first international franchise of this kind – says that their approach will be different.
“The aim is to move beyond the ‘typical 10’,” says Wajahat Khan, the consulting editor at the magazine. “We want the 11th man, the 12th girl, the 13th cross dresser.”
“We have a thriving television industry, an emerging literary scene – and we have a very strong art scene,” adds editor-in-chief Mahvesh Amin.
“We’re going to tap into all of these as well as others – politicians, businessmen, sports figures – and cover them as personalities.”
In the US and the UK, she says, the mere sight of a celebrity walking down a street – say, Angelina Jolie – can classify as news. In Pakistan, this isn’t really the case.
“So we’ve decided that our coverage will be more achievement-oriented,” she says. “People who are doing good things have done great things. This way, we’ll create celebrities.”
Saifullah, who says she grew up watching her mother and grandmother flipping through the pages of international Hello!, says it took her two years to coax the international franchise into Pakistan.
Initially, the management was “reluctant to enter a market that is not really perceived as a prime investment opportunity,” she says.
It’s true, the market for an English-language print publication is limited in a country with low literacy rates even in Urdu.
According to consulting editor Wajahat S Khan, the circulation figures of such magazines barely hit the 30,000 mark.
Moreover, Hello! Pakistan, which will be published once a month, will be priced at Rs 500 – no small amount by the country’s standards.
Saifullah does not reveal any figures, but has full faith that her publication will do well. “We’ve done our research,” she says.
“I can say with complete conviction that we will break the numbers of all English-language publications in the country.”
In freelance fashion writer Moiz Kazmi’s opinion, two types of people will read the magazine.
“Firstly, people will buy the magazine if they – or people that they know – have been featured in its pages,” he says.
“Secondly, there are those who look at who’s-wearing-what in the magazine, then take it to their local tailors to get the clothes copied for themselves.”
There are some critics out there though. Munawar Bawany, member of a local branch of Tanzeem-i-Islami, a Lahore-based religious organisation that aims to inculcate Islamic mores and values within society, says he would not read the magazine – and would discourage his children from “bringing it into the house”.
“Such magazines promote and perpetuate ideologies that aren’t inherently Islamic, that aren’t part of our culture,” he says. “I would be concerned about the effect it may have on young people.”
Saifullah, however, is quick to reassure that the magazine will take great pains to remain “socially responsible and culturally aware”.
“You will never find a picture of a topless Veena Malik plastered on our cover,” she says, referring to the incident late last year when Pakistani film actress Veena Malik shocked segments of society by appearing on the cover of an Indian magazine, apparently naked and with the letters I-S-I tattooed on her arm – an impertinent allusion to Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
There are some further concerns. Publishing a lifestyle magazine that serves as an open advertisement of wealth could be problematic in a country like Pakistan where kidnappings – often for staggering amounts of ransom – are on the rise.
A publication of this nature could also be viewed as symptomatic of a deeply-divided society – a disconnected elite, firmly ensconced in its own ivory tower, versus the impoverished masses.
Indeed, as models sashayed down the runway over the course of the four-day fashion showcase at Karachi’s upscale DHA Golf and Country Club, on the far side of the town, bullets were fired and buses torched as the city’s law and order situation took a turn for the worse.
But there is nothing wrong, says Saifullah, in portraying a more buoyant image of the country.
“It’s about time we began moving away from all this negativity that we dwell in and that we seem to thrive on,” she says. “There are so many positive things taking place in Pakistan that remain unspoken.”