As about 50 people cram into every crevice of a tiny art space, a drag queen wearing a sheer black robe over a red bikini enters dancing to a sensual Bollywood number. The audience is visibly shocked but hoots and whistles. Then Miss Phudina Chatni (Miss Mint Sauce) steps up to the mic: “It’s been so lonely up my pussy. A spider climbed out the other day, crying out of all its 19 eyes, and asked me, ‘Why?’”
In conservative Pakistan, neither drag nor dirty comedy is common, and Chatni is the first person to combine the two into a rollicking show that’s taken Karachi by storm. “She pushes the boundaries of our society through content; the outfits add to the ambiance,” explains Moiz Kazmi, her manager.
Her sets revolve around taboos: stories about her sexuality, her beauty, about the numerous men she has fucked with physically and mentally, loose talk about vaginas and penises, how society ignores sexual behavior. The 29-year-old loves to work the crowd, asking older men, “Hi, daddy, do you have sugar?”
Since Muhammad Moiz first debuted his Phudina Chatni persona in 2018, Chatni’s audience has grown from appealing only to gender-fluid people to all genders, ages and strata of society. She is sassy, yet her comedy is not senseless. It is largely feminist, hinting at the patriarchy, local ethnic barriers, politics, human rights, lack of affection in society and how sex is always the solution.
In our current age, “we laugh at politicians and listen to comedians,” says Faheem Azam, a stand-up comedian. The art of dirty comedy has recently gained momentum in Pakistan, with about 100 shows a year scattered across the country, though many are held in private. “The youth is fed up with the previous generation’s methods,” Faheem says. “Comedy is a form of resistance. Audiences appreciate what people like Moiz are trying to do. The resistance is growing and people are questioning the old methods.”
Be it Phudina Chatni or Shumaila Bhatti — a career-minded girl stuck in a judgmental society — Moiz’s personae challenge biases through humor. “I approach gender at a very level playing field because I have always questioned gender stereotypes,” Moiz says.
The youngest of six, with five older sisters, Moiz was born to a conventional family from Pakistan’s north. He remembers always being told to behave like a boy. At the tender age of 7, he finally asked what was so wrong with doing a task like a girl. The reply from his mother did not win him over: “Because that is how God has directed us to do.”
In school plays, Moiz would always opt for the female roles. In his all-boys secondary school, other students would shy away or give a bad performance of the female lead. “I always loved performing, and I knew I would do it better than them,” he says. “Women’s roles are always complex.”
In the final year of his medical degree, Moiz danced to “Fevicol Se,” a popular Bollywood dance number, in front of his teachers and classmates. “All of these things that I associated with the female gender, i.e., to dance, act, be sexual, were suddenly becoming very empowering for me in a very traditional Pakistani setup,” he says.
His parents do not approve of his performances, and their friends and neighbors often question them about their son’s behavior. But given his financial independence, he lives under his own rules. By day, Moiz is a senior public health manager with one of Pakistan’s leading health agencies, training health care staff on how to deal with patients.
Moiz’s queer politics have never been a rainbow flag and a pride march. “Even though people were suspicious that I might be gay, they didn’t care,” he says. “Because Pakistan is not the U.S. If they aren’t suspicious of your manhood, they won’t question your sexual history. They care more about one’s behavior here.” He made sure his family understood the issues they would face but wanted to steer clear of their battles.
After earning his master’s degree in public health from George Washington Universityin the United States, Moiz started toying with the idea of drag performances. But it wasn’t just about dressing up; he always saw his persona as comedic. Still, he didn’t think he was made for stand-up, and he went into his first show expecting failure. He was proven wrong, as audiences responded rapturously.
When he had performed about 20 times, his audiences grew from about 50 to 200 per show. Moiz is currently dissatisfied with his shows, feeling they’ve become too run-of-the-mill, as he just tells jokes and leaves. “They were supposed to be theatrical, full-on Desi drag experiences,” he says. In the future — shows are on pause right now amid the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s unclear when they will return — Moiz plans to include multiple stand-up elements in his shows. Yet his act might not be one-of-a-kind for long: Moiz is launching what he calls his “House of Rads” to foster the next generation of drag queens who might otherwise fear judgment.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Moiz has navigated a conservative system hassle-free. “Why would I be scared?” he asks, pointing to a history of cross-dressing in Pakistani art. “Pakistan is not the sort of country that we make it to be. Issues begin when we start labeling things. Drag is inherently LGBT, but it is not important to add a rainbow to it. We have contexts of our own.”
OZY’s Five Questions With Muhammad Moiz
- What’s the last book you finished? Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It was bloody brilliant.
- What do you worry about? Being a child who was raised with a lot of expectations, and I think I have internalized those expectations.
- What’s your one must-have tool? My phone.
- Who’s your hero? It might sound pompous, but they are the common, everyday people. My stories are inspired by these people, who have to struggle, survive and come to terms with themselves.
- What’s one item on your bucket list? Bungee jumping.