Not winning the Best Actress (Film) trophy at the Lux Style Awards (LSAs) this year may just have been a good thing for Mehwish Hayat.

The actor lost out to Mahira Khan and the result has been making waves ever since. Mehwish had been nominated for her lead role in the hit movie Punjab Nahi Jaungi while Mahira was selected for her performance as a rape survivor in the not-as-successful Verna. And yet, Mehwish lost and Mahira won and it started off a classic post-LSA controversy.

Also read: Who won big at Lux Style Awards 2018?

The Mahira-vs-Mehwish controversy

Immediately, social media vultures began reacting. Vitriolic allegations of bias and favouritism for the ‘Lux girl’ – which Mahira is – rang out and even certain celebrities made spectacular declarations.

For instance, actor/model Iffat Omar posted a long Facebook post:

“…Punjab Nahi [Jaungi] was one of the best and successful movie, it deserved all the awards. But how can it be ignored in the category of best actress? Mehwish was impeccable in her role. What I don’t understand is if it was a popular award then it was the highest grosser so most of the people went to see it, which in itself tells who people liked more.

"I am, not for a second, undermining Mahira. She is the biggest star we have, but Verna was an average film. Okay, if the argument is her performance was stronger then it should have been under the category of critic award and if that is the case that it has mix of both then why not Uzma Hassan, as she was exceptional in Arth…”

Film director Jami also put up a Facebook status:

Fans and Twitter trolls added their two cents’ worth. Mahira Khan’s popularity is undeniable and there were those that cheered for her. Many others screamed about the awards losing their credibility.

How Mahira won

Punjab Nahi Jaungi team at the LSA 2018
Punjab Nahi Jaungi team at the LSA 2018

The fact remains, though, that the Best Film Actress award is dependent entirely on audience voting and according to LSA awards manager, Fareshteh Aslam, Mahira got the highest number of votes.

She negates allegations of favouritism, saying “The process is audited from start to finish by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the same organisation that audits the Oscars results. Anyone who has a problem with the results can approach us and see the numbers for themselves."

However, some industry members don't agree with the LSA process itself:

“How can [audience] voting be the judge?” asks PNJ director Nadeem Beyg. “I think that Mehwish gave one of her best performances to date in PNJ and the LSAs have been very unfair to her. Verna was seen by perhaps 10,000 people while PNJ was viewed by millions. The votes that the LSAs have collated don’t make sense.”

He continued, “The LSAs really need to rethink things. Even in the Best Actor for Drama category, how could a newcomer like Ahad Raza Mir win against established actors? Can’t a Best Debut or Best Emerging Talent category be devised for Film and TV? Fashion has all these differentiations with Pret, Luxury Pret and Emerging Talent. The same needs to be done for other fields.”

Humayun Saeed, who co-produced PNJ and also acted in it – and won Best Actor (Film) at the LSAs for it – sees the silver lining, though.

“I felt bad for Mehwish when she didn’t win because I really felt that she deserved it. On the upside, she has gotten so much fame from not winning, more than she did when the movie was released and became a hit. People from all over have been speaking up and coming to her defence.”

Mehwish Hayat herself says that she feels content. “The biggest award for me is seeing people turn up to watch my movies and to tell me that they love me. Their respect and love is what matters to me, not a silver statuette. And I will continue to remain focused on my work.

"Every movie I have worked in has been widely appreciated and my last drama Dillagi was also a hit. What better accolade could there be?”

Incidentally, all of Mehwish’s past hits – films Jawani Phir Nahin Ani and Actor In Law as well as drama Dillagi – also didn’t manage to win her a silver statuette.

However, that’s how things apparently roll. The Best Actress for Film category is entirely based on audience votes and the audience may choose to sway whichever way it pleases, regardless of whether a movie is a hit or not.

Mahira Khan refused to comment on the controversy, although in the past she has talked about how hard she's worked to immerse herself in her role for Verna. Perhaps her audience saw her effort shining through her performance?

Does the LSA process need an overhaul?

Sarmad Khoosat at the LSA 2018
Sarmad Khoosat at the LSA 2018

Director and scriptwriter Sarmad Khoosat, who believes that Mahira did a great job in Verna, points out that people who have issues with the awards system can opt to ignore it altogether. “There was a time when I sat out the LSAs because I felt that my serial Manto had been unfairly ignored.

"But the issues being raised right now stem purely from jealousy. Pakistan hasn’t had too many superstars but Mahira is one of them. She is larger-than-life yet completely relatable. It’s a unique quality that only she has and that’s something that our fraternity is often unable to understand.”

“Perhaps the solution is for the LSAs to revisit their format. Ahad Raza Mir, for instance, is a fresh face and he has a lot of potential but he is yet to achieve his very best. Yet, he was awarded ‘Best Actor’. There is a dire need for more categories to be inserted into the LSAs: Critic's choice and best music director among them.

"Major accolades can’t simply be settled via vote. There also needs to be a jury assessing things with their expertise. It’s unfair for people to attack Mahira and talk of bias. But they do need to talk about changing the system.”

The good side of LSA's history of controversies

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the LSA ‘system’ has churned out controversy.

Either there are nomination snubs, like in the case of Sania Saeed and Nauman Ijaz's exemplary performances in drama Sang-e-Mar-Mar. Or there are inexplicable wins, like in 2013, when Ayesha Omar, whose singing is mediocre at best, managed to bag Best Music Album.

"Major accolades can’t be settled via vote. There needs to be a jury assessing things with their expertise. It’s unfair for people to attack Mahira and talk of bias. But they do need to talk about changing the system." — Sarmad Khoosat

However, at times, the post-LSA furore effects changes to their nomination and winner selection processes. For instance, in the event’s early years, Aaminah Haq – who was not much of an actress by any length of the imagination – won Best Actress for Drama even when standing against a powerhouse like Sania Saeed.

The simple reason given for this was that Aaminah's play Mehndi had aired on PTV while Sania's had been on a private channel which had less viewership at the time. More people saw the PTV play and ended up voting more for Aaminah. Following this, corrective action was taken and for many years following this, the Drama category was bifurcated into a 'satellite' and a 'terrestrial' category.

Perhaps some corrective action is in order once again. As the country’s longest standing, highly coveted entertainment awards, the LSAs have a responsibility to fulfill. With more and more new people entering the industry, we at least need to see a Best Debut category added to the fields of Film and TV, which is already present in Music and Fashion categories.

Can there be checks placed in the nominations process to ensure that major performances don’t end up being ignored? Can the juries be guided to make balanced decisions? Will the LSA system undergo these major changes? It's a question that LSA should answer soon.