For many of us girls, and in some cases boys, Shumaila Bhatti has become our best friend; we lover listening to her stories, let her inspire us and entertain us, and yet we have never met her, as she is a figment of imagination. No, we are not crazy at all and neither is our imagination – say ‘hello’ to Muhammad Moiz, a Pakistani expatriate living in Washington D.C, who is credited with creating the wonder that we know as Shumaila. Moiz talks to MAG about his early life, what inspires him and what lays ahead for both, him and his desi girl. Excerpts:

Shumaila Bhatti greeted the world a little over a year ago with her first video and everyone fell in love with her – it was hard not to. “She is an unapologetic desi and isn’t your average good girl. If she was an actual human, she’d be the one who everybody loves to hate but can’t ignore because she is just so visible,” says Moiz trying to define his creation and adds, “in essence, let’s be honest, Shumaila is me and I am Shumaila. I’m very glad that she has been taken as an independent character, because it somehow validates my creative intelligence, but it is a character that stemmed out of my intuition and intelligence.” Yet, he says we will find striking differences between both the personalities, as she isn’t as academic or opinionated when it comes to politics. We might find a little bit of her in all of us, and yet never be able to define who she really is. What gave birth to this uncomplicated, absolutely real character? “Female characters, caricatures, and personas have always come naturally to me. And I guess it is because I have never seen the female person as “the other”. I have always seen it as an under-represented aspect of myself, or of any other human being,” he gives an interesting insight. “Join Shumaila Bhatti as she battles the world and it's many problems, one episode at a time” says the tagline on the page that seems to serve as the Lahori girl’s humble online abode. From dealing with boys outside girls’ colleges to all the rishta problems you could possibly think of, Shumaila has an answer and lesson waiting for you, but the most interesting part of it is the content which Moiz claims comes mostly from “real stories”.

Probing further into the personality of the creator that seems as much a mystery and marvel as Shumaila, I ask him to explain what is it exactly that makes him speak so well on serious issues like harassment, gender bias and the likes. “I am a feminist. Gender equality is a part and parcel of my personality. And I can vouch for myself that you can rarely see me indulging in sexism or misogyny in humour. Even if my stories or narratives aren’t the equivalent of Hillary Clinton’s speeches, they are somehow empowering. And that is why I don’t even need to be deliberate in my attempts,” he discloses why Shumaila is such a hit with everyone regardless of their class and gender. Among the hoard of issues Shumaila can be seen talking about is the observation that a woman is another woman’s greatest enemy. While she draws experiences from her life to educate her followers, who have grown to a staggering 150,000 plus, to what extent does Moiz believe the statement to be true? “This is a misrepresented statement. We need to understand that a woman is another woman’s greatest enemy because our society has only allowed women to be each other’s competitors. You can’t be a man’s enemy because he will defeat you, as he has power and authority,” he drops some serious thought-provoking truth bombs, blaming our biased cultural and legal rules that favour men over women. So for him, it is actually a corrupt social structure that leaves room for only competition between two women, but this is also the least of their problems. “Women’s issues can’t be summarised into a 1, 2, 3, model. We need to look at them from various angles. But mainly, the biggest issue in Pakistan is the overarching culture of misogyny and sexism. Our society and culture are hardwired to believe that men are superior, and women are inferior,” he sheds light on the problems at grassroot level and deeming the road to solving them a violent and slow process, he continues, “Tackling it would mean taking down the structure and rebuilding it entirely. Is it possible? I think so.”

Reminiscing about the time that he posted the first few episodes, Moiz tells me that he never had time to prepare for much because the videos generated a buzz very quickly. “The first video went viral within three days by which time I already had five episodes up. So the reaction was very immediate and sudden. Interestingly, Shumaila became popular in Abbottabad and Karachi before becoming popular in Lahore. But when she became a Lahori icon, there was no turning back.” Shumaila’s rising popularity hasn’t been easy on him. “Adjusting to fame and recognition is a challenge. It didn’t come to me naturally and was very scary at first. I had to take a break, come home and sleep – that’s my way of dealing with stress. The next morning, I sat down and had a conversation with myself and decided that I’ll take media exposure very slowly. I personally think that over-exposure generates a lot of hatred among the public. I’ve also become more cautious about my personal social media use; which is both, a blessing and a curse,” he shares. At his home, however, is an altogether a different story. How does his family like his female alter-ego?

“Lets break my family into four parts: dad, mom, siblings, and cousins,” Moiz starts. “Dad has always maintained an indifferent attitude to what I do but behind my back, I’ve heard, he is very proud and boasts a lot about my accomplishments,” he laughs, giving me a picture of a typical brown father. “I didn’t tell my mom and it was revealed to her by people around her, and naturally she was told that “your son has become a girl on Facebook” which was a major deal for her. But then as she saw that people were actually appreciating Shumaila, and not ridiculing me, she became okay with it.” His siblings and cousins, he claims, have been nothing but amazingly supportive throughout; “they wait for my videos, give me feedback, suggest stories, and actually get angry if I don’t post for a long while.” As a kid who grew up in Abbottabad, Moiz was quite the observant and intelligent kind. He also had to deal with a lot of bullying for his weak and short stature. He now gets all sorts of fan mails from his followers, some heart-warming messages, some funny while some that are downright crazy. I ask him to share one that is at the top of his head. “This one girl sent me over 50 messages in a single go, informing me she was madly in love with me and that she wanted me to add her on Facebook. I respectfully declined, but that conversation was very odd, I’ll be honest.”

Bringing our much-too-real chat to a close, I inquire what life looks like 10 years down the line for Moiz, a doctor by profession who is currently a Fulbright scholar at George Washington University, studying MPH in Global Health Policy, and what kind of a life could Shumaila Bhatti be looking at, one may wonder? “Some prolific producers and directors approached me to write screenplays, so let’s see if I take that route. I love story-telling and believe that TV and film are amazing media to work with and there is so much that can be done given how unsaturated the Pakistani comedy (and romance) scene is,” he shares, adding that Shumaila, of course, will evolve with him.