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By: Sabeen Ahmad
As children of the South Asian Diaspora, actors, actresses and musicians of Pakistani descent are becoming far more visible in American and European media. Television, once homogenously white and black, now has a sprinkling of other cultural colors. Recent music has long evolved to more of a multicultural beat than simply the Beatles’ use of sitars and tablas in the 60s.
As part of our Top 10 theme this month, we at Divanee thought we’d explore the world of pop culture and see which celebrities add a little ‘Pakistani’ to the mix. How many did you know about? Any surprises? Who else can you add to the mix?
This 24-year old, half-Pakistani/half-Haitian Canadian actress is currently playing the role of Riley Richmond on the revamped series, Melrose Place. Playing a hot-to-trot elementary school teacher with commitment issues, Lucas isn’t new to the scene of tween-television. She had a recurring role on the new 90210 as an undercover cop posing as a student, and prior to that she starred as Bekka Lawrence in the Canadian-based teen show Edgemont. CSI fans may have seen her play Ronnie Lake for a four-episode arc or perhaps you may remember her as Lily Ford in the 2008 JJ Abrams film Cloverfield. Lucas’ dream project is “something in the musical realm.” Having achieved box-office success on the big screen and now small, the only place left for this artist to breakthrough is on Broadway.
Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes)
Who is “Bats for Lashes?” I’ll admit, I wasn’t too sure myself. This 29-year-old British rocker is actually Natasha Khan, the London-born daughter of former pro-squash player Rehmat Khan and niece of squash-amazing-great Jahangir Khan (ask your parents). A Marine biologist-hopeful turned self-proclaimed rebel, Khan avoided xenophobic classmates ripping her to shreds by delving into the world of music, ultimately leading to her studying Music and Visual Arts at the University of Brighton. Khan dropped her first album, ‘Fur and Gold’, in 2006, garnering enough attention to get an invitation from Radiohead’sThom Yorke, for whom she opened during his 2008 European tour.
Perpetually sunglassed and sporting giant blingin’ chains, Imran Ul-Deen Khan is Holland’s latest export. Holland? Yep, The Hague, Holland is where Pakistani-born Punjabi singer/rapper Imran Khan was raised and started his music career. After little success in album production in both the Netherlands and Pakistan, Khan, 25, was later picked up by Prestige Records which launched his first big single “Ni Nachleh” in the United Kingdom. Under the direction of his new label, his debut song became a hit sensation on the radio and in clubs throughout the UK, eventually leading to larger exposure on television and eventually on a worldwide level. Last July he released his much-anticipated album Unforgettable, from which tracks such as “Amplifier” and “Bewafa” shot to the top of the charts. [Check out Managing Editor Sabrina Siddiqui’s interview with Imran Khan earlier this year]
Iqbal Theba. He looks like an ‘uncle’ your dad may have invited over for chai. Even his migration to America sounds similar to the stories of our parents: Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1963; came to the United States in 1981 to study Civil Engineering at the University of Oklahoma; got a degree in Construction Engineering Management; went back to the University of Oklahoma in 1986 to get another degree; moved to LA with 37 dollars in his pocket, slept on a friend’s couch and looked for a job in…acting? Ok, maybe he isn’t the same as our parents, after all. But the days of sleeping on couches are over for Theba. These days he’s enjoying the success of the breakout musical show Glee on Fox. Theba plays Principal Figgins, the regulator of an Ohio high school and mediator of fights between teachers running the Glee Club and the Cheerleading Team, The Cheerios. An actor with a serious IMDB resume, Theba has appeared on everything from The West Wing to F.R.I.E.N.D.S, even landing a recurring role on NBC’s new hit Community while simultaneously working on Glee.
If you turned the radio onto a Top40/pop station anytime between 2001 and today, it is very likely you heard Nadia Ali crooning the lyrics to her band iiO’s song “Rapture”. A Top 10 UK and US Billboard song, Rapture put iiO and Nadia Ali on the musical map of success. Ali, 29, is a Pakistani-American born in Libya and raised in Queens, New York. Thanks to her songwriting skills and a little bit of luck,’ Rapture’ became a club hit and, five years later, was followed by “Is it Love” a song that peaked to the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Dance Chart. Still located in New York, Ali is currently writing and releasing singles as a solo artist – these days with producer Armin Van Buuren, who himself has a plethora of number-one dance hits both in the U.S. and Europe.
Fan of Grey’s Anatomy? Maybe you’ve seen the latest Star Trek? How about Iron Man? Lost? Alias? 24? If you’ve seen any or all of the previous films or shows, chances are Faran Tahir is a familiar face. This Pakistan-raised actor moved to the United States as a teenager while his parents were studying acting and directing at UCLA. Well established in Pakistan as a theater family with actors, directors and writers alike, Tahir followed in their footsteps, attending UC Berkeley and graduating with a BA in Theater and later attending Harvard University’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training. He first showed up on the big screen as Nathoo in Disney’s non-animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. He then played Raj in the cultural hit ABCD and has since had over 40 roles in both film and television. For a great interview with Tahir, click here.
Amir Khan began punching people in the face at the tender age of 11. Born and raised in Bolton, England, Khan started competitive boxing in junior high school and by age 16 won a gold medal at the European Student Championships in Lithuania, as well as the World Junior Lightweight Title in South Korea. In 2004, this Punjabi/Urdu/English-speaking 17 year old was Britain’s sole representative in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. There he won a silver medal in the lightweight boxing category and became Britain’s youngest Olympic boxer since 1976. By the time Khan finished his amateur career in 2004, he had a career win/loss record of 100:2. After a few tough years of hired and fired coaches and managers, Khan was well on his way back to world-title status in 2008 with 22 wins – of which 16 were knock-outs – and only one loss. In the meantime, Khan gave a hefty amount of charitable donations. He helped raise over 1.5 million dollars for the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and also went back to his parents’ hometown of Rawalpindi, Pakistan to aid in the relief efforts for survivors of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Tough exterior, softy at heart.
What hasn’t Kamran Pasha done? This Pakistani-born, Brooklyn-bred, near 40 year old has worn a plethora of career caps. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Pasha worked as a reporter, interviewing international leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, and Pakistani former PM Benazir Bhutto. Deciding it was time to head back to school, Pasha enrolled in both Cornell Law School and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and, in 2000, graduated with a joint law/business degree. In 2003, Pasha attended the UCLA School of Theater Film and Television and graduated with an MFA in Producing, making a career switch from law to filmmaking. Starting with jobs as a writer for the remake of cult classic The Twilight Zone, Pasha wrote and co-produced Showtime’s Emmy-nominated drama miniseries, Sleeper Cell (in which Faran Tahir also had a role. He hit a few bumps with NBC’s Bionic Woman and the recently cancelled but intriguing series Kings, but he spent his idle time writing a few novels, namely “Mother of the Believers” and “Shadow of the Swords.” H recently wrote a video game for rapper 50 cent titled “50 Cent: Blood on the Sand” and celebrated with his mom on a trip to – no, not Disneyland – but rather a pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj.
I’m pretty sure Yasmine Ghauri takes the title for “Job Your Pakistani Dad Would Least Like You to Have.” The almost 5’11” Canadian beauty was raised in Montreal by her German mom and Pakistani dad. At the age of 17, while walking by a salon, she was invited in to have her hair done in exchange for posing for photographs. Feeling encouraged after a number of photo sessions, Ghauri decided to try her luck out in New York. Within a few years, her ‘exotic’ look helped secure a cover with Elle Magazine, thus launching her career in the fashion world. Known in fashion circles simply as the single-word moniker “Yasmeen,” Ghauri was sought after by crème-de-la-crème fashion houses Versace, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier, to name a few. In the early 90s Ghauri became the face of Valentino, Hermes and Lanvin. Ghauri’s career successes were much to the chagrin of her father, an imam for over 22 years in her hometown of Montreal. As word spread of her career, Ghauri’s father’s position as leader of his mosque was put into question, leading to his eventual dismissal from the mosque and the Montreal Muslim Community. Meanwhile, Ghauri signed a lucrative contract with Victoria’s Secret and walked in Versace’s highly controversial “Bondage” show in Milan, appeared in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues and did a feature in Playboy Magazine. After more than 15 years in the fashion industry, and with the titles of supermodel and Victoria’s Secret Angel under her wing, Ghauri retired from modeling to pursue other interests and raise her daughter Maya in New York.
Where Yasmeen Ghauri may be a success story most Pakistani parents fear, Huma Abedin is probably their dream child. Abedin was born in Michigan to an Indian father and Pakistani mother, but raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hoping to become the next Christiane Amanpour while attending George Washington University, she applied for an internship in the White House Press Office. She was instead hired as an intern for Hilary Clinton in 1996, eventually becoming Clinton’s personal aide. During the 2008 presidential race, Abedin’s title was “Travelling Chief of Staff,” and she now serves as Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor. Abedin herself is rather elusive for being a fairly public figure. Personal information is hard to find, aside from her recent engagement to New York Democrat Anthony Weiner. But her fashion and unflappability is renowned in both stylistic and political circles, resulting in a 2007 spread in Vogue. She has gained respect and complimentary quotes from Oscar de la Renta and John McCain alike, and her fluency in Urdu and Arabic has served Clinton well, as Huma is often consulted on issues pertaining to the Middle East.