It’s the biggest award show in Pakistan — and arguably the most controversial.
The Lux Style Awards enters its 16th year of honouring the big achievers in Pakistan’s fashion, film, TV and music industries. Each year, competition intensifies as the industries grow and new entrants find some elbow room on a red carpet that is crowded by old (and young) favourites.
At this year's LSAs, to be celebrated in a ceremony held on April 19th in Karachi, the Mahira Khans and Mehwish Hayats are joined by the likes of Hania Amir and Saboor Aly in the film nominees; Anam Malik and Zara Abid have bagged spots alongside the bigwigs in the modelling category and a fresh crop of non-mainstream artistes including Sibti and Chand Tara Orchestra are enjoying the exposure of an LSA nomination.
However, it isn’t LSA’s inclusiveness that gets people talking.
Instead, there are complaints of snubs and undeserved wins — this year has been no different (more on that later) — and the question arises, are these grievances really just a case of sour grapes?
Controversies surround the LSAs every year. While some go public with their reservations, many industry members prefer not to speak against the managers of the biggest award show in Pakistan. For this piece, the jurors and industry insiders questioned spoke on the condition of anonymity, underscoring how sensitive the subject appears to be.
The criticism LSA receives arises from the fairly widespread perception of the awards’ integrity being marred by cronyism, industry politics or just a general lack of transparency.
While most major award shows like the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and BAFTAs have made their complex inner mechanism public, there is a lack of clarity — even within Pakistani showbiz — about the dynamics of LSA’s nominee and winner selection process.
We set out to demystify the Lux Style Awards for our readers.
The LSAs have no fixed time on the annual calendar, but the search for winners begins early in the year.
“At the beginning of each year, we send out a call for submissions,” says Fareshteh Aslam, Awards Manager of the LSAs. However, they don’t receive a lot of responses. It is then up to the four juries — one recruited for fashion, film, TV and music each — to scope out the stand-out performers of each category.
“Fashion nominees are selected by the fashion jury, which is made up of fashion editors and writers from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. It’s like an ex-officio position, i.e., if you’re the editor or a writer for a major publication, you come on board. We also ask some bloggers who are fashion-savvy to join the jury. It’s not a fixed jury, it evolves as the publications and bloggers evolve,” explains Fareshteh.
The music jury is primarily made up of music journalists, radio jockeys and ex-nominees, while the film and TV juries comprise ex-nominees, critics and industry experts.
The process of shortlisting nominees and then selecting a winner differs slightly for each field.
“The fashion jury sits together and goes over the work that comes out throughout the year. That’s how we get the top 5 nominees,” reveals Fareshteh.
This takes some doing, particularly in the absence of portfolio submissions.
A regular member of the fashion jury, confirms, “A lot of potential nominees don’t send very comprehensive portfolios. And some others don’t send them at all. As people who have been monitoring the industry throughout the year, we have to dig up all the strong contenders, Google their work in the past year and nominate them accordingly.”
The juror adds, “Someone from a glossy magazine will have lots to say about a certain photographer or stylist, someone who writes a lot would know a lot about technique, so we all bring in our area of know-how, and we choose our nominees based on that."
The deliberations can take up almost the entire working day. Jurors give marks to the potential nominees out of 10 or 20, based on which the LSA office announces the top five nominees for each award.
To select the winner of the fashion awards, ex-nominees — designers, stylists, photographers, models — are invited to vote. The nominees are requested to submit a portfolio for this stage of the process because the voters aren’t expected to have monitored their peers’ work throughout the year. The award winners are those with the top marks.
“Earlier, this second tier of voting was done by around 30 to 35 people,” reveals Fareshteh, “But this year, the number has increased substantially to about 60. That's between Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad.”
“For film and TV, we invite all ex-nominees to come and vote for nominees. Most of them don’t show up, but those who do are shown tableaus of what happened throughout the year and they make their selection. And that’s how we get our top 5 nominees,” reveals Fareshteh.
Typically, the film jury sessions involved a listing of the year's film releases, followed by a lengthy discussion and occasionally scoring the contenders out of 10. This year, however, the LSAs "computerised" the process, reveals a regular film juror. The jury members were simply asked to come in and enter their individual scores in a booth installed with a touch screen and leave. The deliberations reportedly did not take place.
While Best Film, Best Film Director, Best TV Director and Best TV Writer are decided by compiling jury votes, the remaining film and TV awards are decided by viewer’s choice. An estimated one million people vote for the viewer’s choice awards on the LSA website, shares Fareshteh.
The music jury selects the nominees after a lengthy discussion. Unlike fashion, there are typically no submissions at all for this category and it’s up to the jurors to recall the year in music.
A long-time music juror reveals, “We try to accommodate as much as we can. For the Emerging Talent award, we try to feature indie artists like Slowspin or Rudoh because not a lot of people know them, so they can’t be put in more mainstream categories. Even in more mainstream awards, like Song of the Year or Best Music Album, we try to put in some diversity, not just stuff that is commercial.”
But the jurors strive to maintain a balance.
“We also have to think about the people and who they want or expect to see at the LSAs. Ultimately, the jurors are free to vote as they please, but we tend to reach a general agreement during deliberations.”
While the Best Music Video Director and Best Emerging Talent are decided by jury votes, Best Music Album and Song of the Year are decided by viewer’s choice.
The Lux Style Awards have evolved through the times, adapting as the industry inched towards progress.
For instance, juries have grown bigger as more people entered the industry through the years. The LSA results, which were audited by Fergusons for the initial few years, is now overseen by KPMG — one of the Big Four auditors in the world.
“Every year, the LSAs’ [nominee and winner selection processes] are as robust as they can be,” asserts Fareshteh.
But certain issues plague the system, some having cropped up recently, others persisting over the years.
You can’t please everyone at an award show, but there are times when even the LSAs have deemed certain grievances as warranted. Recent examples include Faysal Quraishi who was belatedly nominated for Bashar Momin (2015) and Ahmed Ali Butt whose request for redesignation as a Best Supporting Actor nominee instead of a Best Actor nominee was honoured (2016).
Some say revisions to the nominees reflects poorly on the LSAs, that it is indicative of lack of research on the LSA office’s part and an unprepared jury. However, Fareshteh says they’re simply following the basic principle of 'if you make a mistake, admit it’.
“I don’t think we’re ever afraid to admit a mistake,” she says.
“In Faysal Quraishi’s case, the jury felt we needed to revisit the TV nominations. And so they did and made the right decision. I think that was very bold of the jury. Same was the case with Ahmed Ali Butt.”
This year, we saw Ho Mann Jahaan director Asim Raza convey his disappointment at the absence of one of his lead actors Adeel Husain from the Best Actor nominees, the designation of his other lead actor Shehreyar Munawar as Best Supporting Actor and the overlooking of the many artistes who worked on the soundtrack of his film in the Best Playback Singer category.
“In Asim Raza’s case, two things happened: first, they didn’t submit the film. Had they done so, they would have submitted Sheharyar as a lead actor and the jury would have judged him accordingly. But the call to designate him as supporting actor was made by the jury according to certain accepted principles of cinema. I’m not 100% qualified to comment on the technicalities, but my jury felt justified about their call on who’s the lead and who’s the supporting,” says Fareshteh.
Asim Raza declined to comment any further on the matter.
After Asim, it was Saba Qamar who spoke out against the LSAs, announcing her boycott of the awards because she claims that it took her Bollywood debut for the awards to wake up to her existence.
Fareshteh, however, chooses to distance her office from allegations like these.
“Nobody from Unilever or Lux ever votes at the Lux Style Awards. When people say Lux hasn’t given us anything for so many years, it’s not Lux, it’s the jury who made that call.”
While there appears to be no set system in place for determining when nominations need revision, a belated review of nominees seems to be almost standard practice.
According to one fashion insider, after the nominations list was sent out this year, the fashion jurors received an email from the LSA office, asking to confirm whether they stand by their nominations.
“It was basically an opportunity to convey any afterthoughts,” says the insider. Another fashion juror suggested that the email was prompted by an angry Nomi Ansari who was offended at having not been nominated in the Best Bridal category. “But everyone was pretty sure of their scores and no change in the nominations was announced.”
From this, it appears that a review of the LSA nominees takes place if the relevant jury feels it's warranted.
A major criticism of the LSAs is the fact that the jury sessions aren’t bias-free due to the vested interests of the jurors. This is particularly true of the fashion awards, where conflicting interests appear to run rampant through both phases of the deliberations.
Some say that fashion critics and journalists in Pakistan aren’t as impartial as they should be, with many on the payroll of design houses by virtue of hosting their ads on their online publications or Instagram accounts.
In the first phase, where journalists and bloggers select nominees, one has to ask how they reconcile their monetary relationship with potential nominees and their duties as a juror.
Do those conflicting interests impact the integrity of the nominations?
“I’m sure it impacts the integrity of the nominations, just like it impacts the critique run by journalists who also run advertising of the same products on their sites or Instagram," opines one fashion critic. "But this is the print and digital media of Pakistan and right now almost everyone is being paid on the side by design houses and we can’t do anything about it. The LSAs don’t have a choice but to bring them in."
A prominent blogger and LSA regular counters the above opinion, saying that professional integrity overrides commercial concerns, especially in the presence of one's seasoned peers.
"Instagram and advertorials are now part of the way advertising works now. Every single one of the jurors represents a magazine or blog that takes paid posts on social media," they say.
They add, "However, no one's advertisers know how they voted in a closed jury. The jury is comprised of some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. No one is afraid of calling a spade a spade. If you dared to unfairly favour clients the rest of the jury would jump on that in a minute. There was very frank discussion on the good and bad and if you had an opinion you had to be able to back it up with hard facts. There was a lot of good work done this year and no one on the jury would have passed up recognising that in favour of the mediocre."
When queried about the same, Fareshteh admits that the question of conflicting interests also weighs on her mind.
“The way I rationalise it is that if you’re the editor of a certain publication, you have certain basic ethics and principles in place. A newspaper editor, for example, who is also monetising a blog, would want to give clients as much space as possible, but wouldn't. Because as an editor, you're looking after the interests of the publication. The same principles applies when you’re asked to vote. I do ask the jury to put all those considerations aside before voting.”
Conflicting interests are also apparent in phase 2 of the fashion deliberations, when ex-nominees are expected to weigh in on who deserves to win the awards.
“It's true that some designers complain that they can’t trust the LSA results because other designers weigh in the winner selection. The fact is that designers or stylists are asked to leave a session when their relevant categories are being discussed, but nominees will find it hard to believe. They said ‘this person is my competitor, they deliberately spoiled our chances’,” said a fashion juror.
But competition and professional envy aren't the only factors that could potentially mar the results' integrity. Photographers, models, designers and makeup artistes are all in professional relationships with each other — and even if they sit out of their competitors' category — their past, present and potential professional ties with the nominees can also influence their decision making.
Fareshteh says, “When it comes to voting, we ask anyone who is affiliated with a nominee to sit it out. Wherever they feel that there is a conflict of interest, it’s up to them. I’m not a moral police. At the awards office, we can’t read people’s preferences, likes, dislikes. It has to be up to the individual to make that distinction.”
Perhaps the best way to counteract conflicting interests is to recruit a sizable jury — a suggestion that comes from a film insider.
"One can have ulterior motives for any nominee. But the whole idea of making a jury is to make it large and diverse enough that one person's attempt at skewing it doesn't really matter because there are enough people to neutralise its effect."
"It also comes down to how well you are able to argue about your choices with the other jury members."
But what happens when deliberations cease to take place?
With the introduction of a computerised system of balloting, some film jurors feel that they are completely blindsided.
A regular film juror says, “I’ve always felt my voice as a juror was respected but not this time. I’m in a little bit of shock by [the film nominees] this time. In previous years, if I spoke up against a particular actor or director, I’d find people who agreed with me and our points of view were taken into account. This time, I can’t stand behind the results.”
However, Fareshteh explains the computerisation was a logistical necessity. With an expanding film jury, it was no longer feasible to hold discussions. Earlier, a jury of 10 to 12 convened for deliberations. This year, they had about 30 people vote for the nominees.
Still, the computerised system had other faults.
An ex-nominee who was part of the film jury this year asked for his vote not to be counted because a list of films was missing some major releases when he voted. Also, there is the issue of different people quantifying merit in disparate ways — someone could score their top film as an 8/10, while another could award the film full marks. This can also skew the results.
The LSAs have been made more interactive with the inclusion of viewer’s choice awards, but not everyone thinks this is a good thing.
“Inevitably, viewer’s choice awards become a popularity contest. And viewer’s choice doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the artistic merits of a film. For instance, someone like Mahira Khan who has a huge fan following is more likely to be get votes because the audience isn’t likely to have seen the other work,” says a film insider.
“Films involve the same level of artistry as fashion, so it shouldn’t be left for the general public to weigh in on which film was better.”
However, Fareshteh insists that the LSAs follows international practices.
“At the CFDA Fashion Awards, fashion is done by a knowledgeable select jury and entertainment because it involves the wider public is done this way.”
Awards like Best Film are left to the jury’s decision, “because we want to reward excellence. We have box office numbers for viewer’s choice, a critically acclaimed film is what we’ve like to honour.” However, this doesn’t explain why Best TV Play is left up to viewer’s choice.
Other jurors don’t see a problem in viewers voting.
A music juror says, “If the public votes for everything, then it’ll be totally commercial. And if jury votes for everything, it might all be obscure stuff. For Song of the Year, we can go for Chand Tara Orchestra’s ‘Kakh Nasheen’, which is very obscure, or we could go for Jimmy Khan, who’s a bit more commercial but did ‘Baarish’ in a totally techno setup. Atif Aslam is nominated in Best Playback Singer and has good chances of winning, so viewer's choice is a good way to balance it out.”
The LSA office appears both humble and evasive in addressing criticism.
On the one hand, it admits that it is prone to weakness and on the other hand, points to the jury as the cause for the lapses over the years. Ironically, it also insists that the process has been robust as possible over the years.
If it plans on counteracting bias with an ever-increasing pool of jurors, it must make similar efforts to finetune other parts of the process. Because even with esteemed auditors doing its number-crunching, it must consider that the Pakistani fashion and entertainment industries in their nascent stages need carefully considered appreciation, not arbitrary scores on a ballot sheet.