The long read: Her risque videos blazed a trail for viral fame in Pakistan. But the price she paid for popularity was death
Pakistans first celebrity-by-social media, Qandeel Baloch, was known for the videos and photographs she posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Her videos were a mixed bag she had a headache; she was bored; she had a song stuck in her head and for a few seconds every day, thousands watched her coo or feign annoyance or try on a new dress. The videos were mostly made at night, when Qandeel said she couldnt sleep. And then, they became more risque by Pakistans standards, at least.
Qandeel was killed in July 2016. Her brother confessed to the murder, saying her actions had brought dishonour to his family. She was 26 years old. Qandeel created a story about herself part truth and part lies, fibs and exaggerations. The story allowed her to be whoever we wanted her to be. It allowed her to be whoever she wanted to be. And the small fibs are just as much a part of the real story of Qandeel as important as the filtered memories of her friends and family, if not more so. (Qandeels words at times translated by me, but otherwise unchanged appear here as italicised sentences. I felt it was necessary to allow her to talk or talk back when something about her life or personality is presented as fact.)
At 11.25am on 16 July 2016, Adil Nizami, a 25-year-old rookie reporter from Multan, a city a little over 500km from the capital, Islamabad, broke the biggest story of his career. Famous model Qandeel Baloch has been killed, he blurted out in a live call that interrupted 24 Newss regular morning bulletin. As he stood in the lane outside Qandeels house, the words that had been on the tip of his tongue for more than an hour now rushed out. Some are saying that she was shot dead. The police have just reached her house here in Multan. We should find out shortly how she was murdered. Her brothers, the murderers, were angry with her because of her behaviour and all the scandals on TV. Her family was angry with her. And we have found out this morning that her brothers have either strangled her or shot her theres conflicting information about how they killed her.
After 40 minutes, a line of 12 news vans made its way down the lane leading to the house. Adil estimated that more than 100 people police, reporters, cameramen, locals were now buzzing around like flies in a jar on the rough sandy road.
When the ambulance arrived, it took the driver half an hour to cover the last few feet. No one wanted to give up their hard-won spot in front of the small house. Adils bright pink knock-off Ralph Lauren shirt was covered in dark patches of sweat. It was nearing 2pm. The reporters had been breathlessly relaying each drop of information as they received it from inside the house. They were getting restless. Their producers mined Qandeels social media feeds for quotes and photographs to tide viewers over until they had anything tangible. An officer had made a video of the body inside the room. The reporters scrambled for it.
Adil didnt want that. I want the real thing, he thought. If Id only been here 10 minutes before If Id headed out right when I got that first call, I could have been here before the police. I could have got a shot of her.
He knew exactly what he would have done: shoot footage of the body first. Blur the face, of course but then again, that depended on what the bosses at the channel wanted. Maybe a good shot of her face, in case they wanted to run a still. After that, Id shiftfocus, Adil told me. Shes been murdered, shes been identified, shes Qandeel Baloch. OK! Done! Now the parents. How was she murdered? Who murdered her? The story they gave the police that story could have been mine. I would have been the first to get it.
All eyes were on the ambulance, now wedged up against the gate. Theyll bring her out soon, the reporters murmured among themselves. Any minute now, they told their producers reassuringly. The body will come out any minute now. Adil had the best spot, right next to the ambulances open doors. He spotted a photographer he knew from another channel. He called him over. He could hear someone behind the gate shouting for a sheet. It was time. Adil had a plan.
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