LIVEWIRE: COMING OF AGE?

July 14, 2019

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Momina Mustehsan and Eva B in Apna Gaana Chalay Ga - Photos: Faisal Farooqui@Dragonfly
Momina Mustehsan and Eva B in Apna Gaana Chalay Ga - Photos: Faisal Farooqui@Dragonfly

It was a star-studded show. A very star-studded one. So glitzy that I predict that, when the 18th Lux Style Awards (LSAs) are aired on TV, the ratings are likely to shoot sky-high. The LSAs may be about celebrating style and entertainment, and recognising talent, but they are also very much about putting out an entertaining show for TV that generates plenty of accolades and goodwill for the title sponsor. The recently-concluded event will, in all probability, be able to accomplish this last mission.

The LSA red carpet was quite literally littered with stars and the cameras couldn’t stop clicking. Meera — on a post-Baaji high — was followed by Shabnam, Nadeem Baig, Mohammad Qavi Khan, Maya Ali, Mahira Khan, Iqra Aziz, Sheheryar Munawar, Bilal Ashraf, Emmad Irfani, Imran Ashraf Awan, Ali Safina, Yasir Hussain, Fahad Mustafa, Ahmed Ali Butt, Aijazz Aslam, Mehwish Hayat, Zara Noor Abbas, Saba Qamar, Faysal Qureshi, Mawra Hocane and Atif Aslam, among others.

One did still notice how some LSA mainstays were ostensibly missing, such as Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui, Reema, Ahad Raza Mir and Sajal Aly. Also skipping out on the ceremony was a large chunk of the fashion fraternity — suspiciously, the ones who didn’t win simply weren’t there! — and the nominees who had backed out from the awards on the basis that it had slotted an alleged harasser, Ali Zafar, in the Best Actor nominations.

Regardless, the LSAs hauled in a guest list that glittered with show business’ Gen-X, along with a smattering of longstanding power-players. Whisk them all together in a single production, get some of them to sing, dance, present an award or make just any inane commentary (more on that later), and you get a top-of-the-charts show.

The Lux Style Awards have always been applauded and critiqued simultaneously as the country’s longest-standing entertainment-based awards ceremony. At their 18th incarnation, this is both the show’s blessing and its burden

Coming back to the LSAs’ other aims and objectives mentioned earlier, these are harder to achieve. We live in contentious times, where awards results are always challenged, goodwill is often rare to find and everyone is eager to tweet their disapproval. Then again, the LSAs have always been applauded and critiqued simultaneously. As the country’s longest-standing entertainment-based awards ceremony, this is the show’s blessing and burden.

Fahad Mustafa and Mehwish Hayat
Fahad Mustafa and Mehwish Hayat

But now in its 18th year — to quote host Sheheryar Munawar, the ceremony has “reached adulthood” — the show needs to be cohesive and gripping. At the risk of sounding repetitive in every yearly review, it needs to start on time to keep the audience interested. It also needs to be held together by a watertight, witty script and hosts who are glib enough to do justice to it. And while doing this, it also needs to take responsibility and give out strong messages. This year’s LSAs did manage to achieve a lot of this — there was so much to love. There was also so much that was missing…

Messages that matter, save one

It was very obvious that the LSAs were on a socially conscientious mission. Time and again, presenters emphasised the importance of celebrating womanhood and solidarity within the industry. The show started off with Unilever Chairman Shazia Syed speaking about being inclusive, and was followed by Fahad Mustafa recognising the contribution of women to the industry and how “we need to empower them, as much as we can.”

Then came Momina Mustehsan with Eva B, a burqa-clad female rapper from Lyari, chanting Apna Gaana Chalay Ga. The message rang out loud and clear: here were two women, from disparate backgrounds, challenging stereotypes with slogans such as ‘Mein Baaghi Hoon’ flashing in the background … rapping to a song that was very Gully Boy-esque!

The social messages didn’t stop but some looked far too forced. Mehwish Hayat and Zara Noor Abbas talked about sisterhood and how actors can be friends. But they did this by recalling how celebrities in the past would practise ‘black magic’ on each other. Why ever were these two very talented actresses bogged down by such senseless dialogues?

Shabnam and Nadeem Baig
Shabnam and Nadeem Baig

In a much more impactful segment, directors Asim Raza, Saqib Malik, Ehteshamuddin, Sangeeta and Sarmad Khoosat came on stage to talk about their contemporaries who were nominated for Best Director. It was a well thought-out effort, implying that industry veterans support and applaud each other’s projects. However, Sarmad Khoosat unfortunately ended up talking about Motorcycle Girl director Adnan Sarwar — who was not a nominee — missing out Haseeb Hassan of Parwaaz Hai Junoon fame, who was, in fact, nominated. What’s a five-hour show without some blunders, eh? But a blunder this big?

There was much else that had the audience applauding, however. When Feroze Khan won the award for Best Actor (Viewers’ Choice), he brought fellow nominee, veteran actor Mohammad Qavi Khan on stage with him and presented him with the award as a sign of respect.

Stylist Nabila, on winning the Lifetime Achievement Award, spoke about how some of the most influential people in the country were at the LSAs and that they needed to combine their efforts and use this influence to bring about change. Frieha Altaf, introducing Nabila’s award, lauded the stylist’s determination to succeed while being a single mum.

To my mind, one of the most profound points about the night was made by Bee Gul, who won the award for Best Writer of a TV Play. Writer of the riveting Dar Si Jaati Hai Sila, a play that tackled the topic of sexual predators who lurk within normal households, she talked about how, shortly after the drama had begun airing, she got a notice from Pemra, declaring that the drama was an uncomfortable watch. “All I could write back was that ‘Yes, sir and I hope that such projects never become a comfortable watch.”

Atif Aslam pays tribute to Shabnam
Atif Aslam pays tribute to Shabnam

Similarly, when the same drama’s director, Kashif Nisar, accepted his award for Best TV Play Director, he said that he had deliberately watched the play with his two daughters, and that he wanted “our girls to feel safe.”

Unfortunately, even though the LSA ceremony was keen on putting forward social messages, these were the only times when the topic of harassment was addressed at all. One would have expected the show to have had a more direct approach towards an issue that has been rearing its ugly head in the entertainment industry all through this past year.

A number of well-known personalities have been accused of having been harassers. The LSAs didn’t necessarily have to name names but, for an event that aims to represent fashion and entertainment in Pakistan, some commentary should have been made on the topic.

Performances that rocked

Scattered amongst the awards results were some performances that truly pulled no punches. Believe it or not, this is a rarity at the LSAs, a show that has often encumbered audiences with sloppy, mundane dances. This time round, though, the dances were loaded with energy and plenty of chutzpah. There was Fahad Mustafa and Mehwish Hayat shaking a leg to their song from the movie Load Wedding. And the Lux girls, past and present, brought the house down with their sequences on revamped songs filmed on actress Shabnam, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Meera, Maya Ali and Saba Qamar — also, Asad Siddiqui, who is not a Lux girl but knows his moves — were spectacular, choreographed by longtime Lollywood dance director Nigah. Credit also goes to the brilliant Sahir Ali Bagga, who remixed the songs so well. Never have old Lollywood classics sounded so good!

Zara Noor Abbas and Mehwish Hayat talked about sisterhood and how actors can be friends
Zara Noor Abbas and Mehwish Hayat talked about sisterhood and how actors can be friends

Rivaling the dances were not one but two performances by Atif Aslam. It was heard that Atif wanted to stand solo on stage, unaccompanied by a female singer. Some may consider this arrogant of the star, but seeing him in the spotlight, it was evident that he was more than enough to get the audience cheering. Earlier in the show, Atif sang one of his own songs while later on, he sang his rendition of Shabnam and Nadeem’s film song of yore, Mujhe Dil Se Na Bhulana. Walking into the audience, he took Shabnam by the hand and took her to the stage with him. They were joined there by Nadeem, the actress’ longtime co-star, who presented her with her Lifetime Achievement Award. Iconic. Picture-perfect. And like I said, how can the ratings not spiral high?

There were many more moments that hit highs and one of them has turned out to be quite controversial…

The Proposal

Trending rampantly on social media was a video of actor Yasir Hussain who decided to propose marriage to Iqra Aziz — the two have been very open about their relationship for some time now — and she accepted. Quintessentially, the proposal was peppered with a joke here and there: “You have won two awards today so I thought that this was a good time to give you a third one,” and then, “Don’t say no, it’ll be humiliating for me over here.” He proceeded to hug her and kiss her — and the country’s morality brigade collectively shrieked in disapproval.

Was the proposal planned? Iqra Aziz looked surprised but considering that Yasir had a ring with him, it must have had been premeditated. Were the public displays of affection necessary? No, but it was an emotional moment for the actors and perhaps it was all impulsive. Did it look like a publicity stunt? The two actors must surely be planning to get married for real, and not just for the media hype, but as far as the LSAs are concerned, it’s all anyone could talk about.

A word about the comedy

And what’s an awards show without comedy? Some of the funniest moments of the night were delivered by Saba Qamar and Yasir Hussain who read out the news together, good-naturedly poking fun at fellow celebrities. In another segment, Hina Dilpazeer and Yasir bantered playfully and, at one point, Hina, playing a designer, had the audience in stitches with the line: “Asim Jofa and I have the same sad story — we are both designers but no one knows this!”

The script for both segments was written by Yasir Hussain and, before you predict that it must have been inappropriate, this time it wasn’t. Having observed Yasir, particularly on stage enacting scripts written by Anwar Maqsood, one is aware of his potential. Perhaps he has realised this too and is steering clear of making offensive remarks.

Much more stilted with some comic moments was a skit enacted by Syed Shafaat Ali and the talented, but often overlooked, Ali Safina.

Yawn moments

Hina Dilpazeer and Yasir Hussain
Hina Dilpazeer and Yasir Hussain

There were also plenty of awkward pauses and feeble jokes. Sheheryar Munawar and Feroze Khan chatted clumsily, Uzma Khan announced an awards result at the wrong time, Momina Mustehsan was given the incorrect envelope and Atif Aslam was very late in coming to receive his award for Best Playback Singer.

Of course, these fumbles will be edited out for TV viewership, but it was clear that the awards are still in need of better conceived scripts and — more significantly — hosts who are more adept at speaking on stage in a live show. One also missed the energy and wordplay that comes so easily to Ahmed Ali Butt, who often hosts the ceremony but wasn’t doing so this time.

Even in his few moments in the spotlight, Ahmed drew laughter. Smiling easily, he quipped, “This year, something phenomenal has happened: Meera is now everyone’s Baaji.” When fellow presenter Uzma Khan announced Feroze Khan the winner at the wrong time, he wisecracked, “There’s so much suspense, it is a totally unexpected result!”

Later on, Meera came on stage and retorted happily, “Yes, Ahmed, I’m happy to be everyone’s Baaji!” High on the success of her latest movie, the actress was on a roll. This was her show — as it was for so many others amongst her peers.

And what of the awards results? Many would say that the winners in the fashion category were unexpected. The film and TV winners were mostly on point, except for certain surprises, while music’s categories and nominations are dismally limited at the moment.

But for all its flaws, the LSAs teemed with industry camaraderie. Good cheer and applause rang out till the early hours of the morning when the show ultimately ended. There could have had been more of it had the show started on time.

Eighteen years old now, the LSAs, like adults, need to learn punctuality. Like adults, they need to have the clout to address topics that may be tricky to tackle, especially given this year’s nomination withdrawals, but extremely necessary, like #MeToo! All grown up, the LSAs don’t just need to strive to be the best, but actually become the very best.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 14th, 2019