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SPOTLIGHT: TRIUMPH OF THE SPECTACLE

Updated Apr 30, 2017 07:04am

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Reema performs at the LSAs
Reema performs at the LSAs

The Lux Style Awards 2017 happened last week to much media hype but not exactly much fanfare. They won’t be televised until May 20. Fans did, however, get a chance to vote for, among other things, what they considered to be the best television play of the last year. They didn’t get to vote for any of the fashion categories, or best film. Does this system seem a bit arbitrary? Well, it gets better.

Most of the jury panels themselves have commercial rivalries or partnerships with the people they have to judge. Perhaps the most straightforward example of this is Hassan Sheharyar Yasin, also known as HSY, being both the director of the show and a nominee in the Best Menswear category. The host, Atif Aslam, was both nominee and winner in the Best Male Singer in Film award. Sadaf Kanwal in her victory tweet after winning best model named four brands that did her wardrobe and styling. Meanwhile Saba Qamar, an actress nominated three times, boycotted the entire thing because she felt the nominations had been unfair to her, and many others, in the past.

One thing the LSA 2017 did get right compared to all the previous ones — all of which were directed by Frieha Altaf, and there was unsurprisingly much controversy in the shift from her to HSY, some allegations so far-flung we can’t even print here — was that it started mercifully on time. Well not on time, but with just a two-hour delay compared to the four to six hour one usually, and the event ending exactly at midnight, when a lot of the lavish gowns inside turned back into rag and the Pajeros outside into pumpkins.


LSAs are billed as award shows, but are there any credible awards in Pakistan free of political or commercial biases?


I have nothing against fancy dress parties, but you know you’ve messed it up when you have to tell photographers not just who you’re wearing, but how you’re wearing them. It was a good thing many of the outlandish gowns didn’t have to come on stage to collect trophies, because I don’t think they would have made it up those steps without a wardrobe malfunction.

Even for the well-dressed nominees and winners, the LSAs were all about branding and commercial interests — earrings by Dior, bangles by Kiran Fine Jewellery, dress by Lebanese designer Rania Khem, makeup by Nabila, gown by Nomi Ansari, clown by Ali Xeeshan etc.

The awards really do take a backstage to all the high fashion grandstanding, and when they are finally given out it’s not without a slew of complaints about how the awards are structured. While jurors at the LSA argue that a viewers’ choice award becomes a popularity contest, which might ramp up viewership ratings for the televised event and make organisers happier, it eschews merit; on the other hand, a panel of expert jurors is just as capable of ignoring merit and simply voting along loyalty lines or against competitors.

Which brings us to the main point: are there any credible awards in Pakistan free of political or commercial biases?

Lux is a ‘luxury’ soap brand by Unilever, and its award show started off very much as a television spectacle for the brand, hosted by Lux girl Reema, and involving many other Lux girls such as Aaminah Haq, instead of a merit-based award show. Then there are award shows like the ARY Film Awards. In the 2016 iteration, it lavished 18 awards on ARY’s own production, Yeh Jawani Phir Nahin Aani, while Geo’s Manto only picked up two.

Maya Ali, Mahira Khan and Urwa Hocane
Maya Ali, Mahira Khan and Urwa Hocane

Also in 2016, took place the 4th Hum Awards, honouring the best in fashion, music and Hum Television dramas of the previous year. While heavy on viewers’ choice categories — only Best Television Film and Best Original Soundtrack are decided by a jury — these awards are short on variety. Four out of the five nominations for Best Drama Serial were directed or produced by HUM TV mainstay Momina Duraid, who inevitably ran out winner with Diyar-i-Dil. Interestingly, Sunita Marshall was voted model of the year, exactly 10 years after winning that title in the 7th Lux Style Awards.

Sure, these are all heavily-sponsored corporate affairs, so expecting merit-based credibility is maybe asking too much. The sponsors need to make their money back, and a televised spectacle is the only way to do that. As reluctant participant in the 2017 Lux Style Awards, actor Noman Ijaz said, “This is just an excuse for us to sit together. After all, Unilever and the channels have to earn as well.”

Many are probably aware that Noman Ijaz was also a winner, in 2012, of the Pride of Performance award handed out by the government of Pakistan in recognition of distinguished contributions to the fields of literature, arts, sports, medicine and science. Noman Ijaz won the award together with Meera, Saba Hameed and Javed Sheikh in the Art category.

What may confuse some is that in addition to well-deserved categories such as science, literature and sports, there are also a couple of awards handed out each year under Public Service and Services to Pakistan, the last one conferred upon foreigners. Whereas there already exists the Hilal-i-Pakistan for just that purpose, awarded a few years ago to everyone’s favourite Senator John Kerry, there is also the Sitara-i-Pakistan for roughly the same purpose, and the Sitara-i-Imtiaz which also awards achievements in science, education and public service. Achievements in public service are normally of the simpering and cajolery kind.

There are at least a dozen other government awards which serve to undermine not just each other, but the whole idea of a government conferring honours upon someone’s special achievements. If everyone’s walking around with an award of some kind, then there’s little value in the awards being carried.

This is also true for all media and artistic awards. For instance, many might not be aware that we have also had four Pakistan Media Awards, with winners in 2013 — the last iteration so far — being those such as Shamoon Abbasi, Aaminah Sheikh, writer Umera Ahmed (for Zindagi Gulzar Hai), model Ayyan Ali, designer Zainab Chottani and the film Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi.

Then there are the PTV Awards with, again, both a viewers’ choice and jury categories. The last awards were held in 2012, and had the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gillani, as the keynote speaker, accompanied by Qamar Zaman Kaira and Rehman Malik. The 17th PTV Awards jury chose Noman Ijaz as the best actor in the same year he was given the Pride of Performance award (coincidence?) and Saba Qamar as the best actress. Nothing else was notable in these awards, because they were restricted to PTV’s programming and who in their right mind watches PTV anymore?

Atif Aslam’s opening act
Atif Aslam’s opening act

Closing the film and television awards loop is the revival of the historic Nigar Awards, which were to be held in March of this year after a 15-year hiatus. But they have not been held so far over controversies between the organisers and a possible lawsuit. The nominations for the 47th Nigar Awards read just like the film nominations from the Lux Style Awards 2017. Why, then, would anyone even bother to find out what becomes of the postponed Nigar Awards?

Sure, they have a rich history of celebrating and promoting Pakistani cinema, but currently all the celebrations and promotions are about brands. I have a sneaking suspicion that what the Nigar Awards are lacking isn’t really a consensus among the organisers, but a lack of corporate sponsors — a deal for televising on Geo, ARY, Hum or the plethora of other channels with significant viewership on local cable.

Because that’s what these award shows have become since the last time Nigar Magazine held one in 2002. The Lux Style Awards, incidentally, started around the same time and took film, fashion and television into corporate hands. Corporate interests now dictate who organises, who hosts, who adjudicates and, yes, sometimes even who wins. Not all nominees get the same amount of projection, especially important for the viewers’ choice awards.

What will be the future like? Will every television channel have their own annual spectacle celebrating themselves, their own work? Or, will we see competition amongst these award shows and one of them come out top as a clear winner on merit? Merit hasn’t been the guiding light of the award shows we’ve had so far, so it does look like the only competition we will see is who does the televised spectacle better — with bigger stars and with the most number of sponsors.

Published in Dawn, ICON, April 30th, 2017