This fledgling awards event that has surfaced out of nowhere, insulted a number of celebrities by ghosting them.
This fledgling awards event that has surfaced out of nowhere, insulted a number of celebrities by ghosting them.

What is the PISA, currently trending on your social media feed with star-studded images?

It stands for the ‘Pakistan International Screen Awards’, a new awards ceremony that has suddenly emerged this year, with an event that took place in Dubai last night. The organisers flew out a large number of stars for the event and quite a few of them were enlisted to host, perform or give away awards.

They were all ebullient about it on social media – particularly those who were flown out on a private jet. An all-paid vacation to Dubai, where you get to board a chartered flight. How cool is that?

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Seriously, though, as more and more Pakistani awards events begin popping up around the world, a new revenue stream is opening up for local stars. Celebrities, ideally, are paid to be part of the ceremony while the free international trip is an added benefit. For years now, Bollywood stars have participated in ‘variety shows’ all over the world, conveniently coined as ‘awards’.

Also read: Were the IPPAs Pakistan's most meaningless awards show?

The fact that similar events are now being organised for Pakistani stars is testament to the growing strength of our entertainment industry. That’s great.

But we’ll tell you what wasn’t great: the way the PISA, this fledgling awards event that has surfaced out of nowhere, insulted a large number of celebrities by ghosting them.

The radio silence that followed

A considerable number of actors and members of the fashion fraternity were invited to the event weeks in advance. Many of them were congratulated for having been ‘nominated’ for a category and were asked to keep certain dates free in their schedule. They did so. Many even figured out their wardrobes for the event.

But then, the organisers simply disappeared. Next thing you know, a select few are leaving on a (private) jetplane to Dubai. Allegedly, this private plane was originally supposed to transport trophies and the camera equipment but then, our stars launched in and the trophies were later carried by some other passengers.

Stepping into this private plane, our Insta-savvy stars took plenty of pictures, even finding a certain seat on the plane where the light was great. It seems that, one after the other, they all sat on said seat and floated out pictures for the world to see. Justifiably, the celebrities who had cleared away their schedule and were now being ghosted, felt very angry.

Nabeel Zafar of Bulbulay fame was angry that the awards had used his name to promote their event and that, soon afterwards, the organisers ‘stopped their communication’. He continued that, ‘… Such a move is an insult to me and many other artists who were contacted and committed to travel.’

Actress Nadia Afgan was similarly riled. In her post on social media, she wrote, ‘… I did not ask to be part of these awards. I did not ask to be invited…’ continuing that, ‘My question is who are these people, why would they do this and what is the point of nominating someone when you don’t actually intend (to) have them there at the event!’

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Teepu Sharif commented, “We have no interest in such awards. We don’t even go to these ceremonies usually. But we were invited and so we cleared up our schedule. I cancelled my shooting for those days and the organisers got me the visa. But then, they just vanished. I suppose that they decided that others were more important and would look better on camera. No matter how hard we work, there are people who will insult us like this. This is a bitter reality. It’s unacceptable.”

Actor Ahmed Ali Akbar went so far as to state that the organisers contacted him and then, refused to answer his calls. That’s quite shocking.


“I still wish the PISA team all the best and I hope that they learn from their mistake. But first they have to acknowledge they made one … this isn’t about a free trip to Dubai on a private jet. Most of us had to clear our schedules, request our production teams for days off, put our work on hold.”


According to Usman Mukhtar, “While I appreciate our industry growing beyond the bounds of our country and spreading our art across the world, I will not appreciate me or my peers being treated with no respect. I was approached by the PISA team and agreed to attend the awards. They asked me for publicity which I did through a video message that they used. Eventually they were completely out of the picture although they continued to use my video and content to market their show. I did ask them to remove it as I wouldn’t be attending anymore but they did not care.”

“No disrespect to any of the beautiful people who are to the show but to reiterate, all of us can easily afford a trip to Dubai and it’s not about that. this is just to ensure that in the future, awards shows are not as disrespectful and mismanaged.”

Osman Khalid Butt stated, “I didn’t want this to turn into a finger-pointing contest. I just would have appreciated some professionalism instead of us being kept in the dark till, quite literally, the morning of the event. I reached out to my friends in the fraternity and they also said that there was radio silence from the organizes’ end.”

“I was honored, as I am sure all the nominees in their respective categories were, to be recognized for my work in Baaji (Best Supporting Actor – Film) and hoped that a new impartial awards ceremony honoring the best in film and television was being launched, that too on an international platform.”

“All our documentation was in place, we were the ones reaching out and requesting details and itineraries. Nothing was provided. I just read Nabeel’s post right now. It is one thing to only, say, fly in potential winners, performers and a select few from the industry. It is another to pursue actors, directors (nominees, mind you), confirm their attendance, get their visas sorted and then disappear.”

“I still wish the PISA team all the best and I hope that they learn from their mistake. But first they have to acknowledge they made one … this isn’t about a free trip to Dubai on a private jet. Most of us had to clear our schedules, request our production teams for days off, put our work on hold.”

Director Saqib Malik said, “I was approached by their PR agency here. Was also in continuous team with their team designated there. I was assured that I was being sent a ticket. In fact even my visa came. I cancelled a shoot and made myself available for two days only because Baaji was nominated for six awards, including Best Director, and I thought that it would be correct for me to attend. I had no great desire to be there other than to support the event and Pakistani cinema and also because Baaji was nominated for Best Film and Director and I am also the producer of the film. I was waiting till 2 a.m. last night and there was no news. By speaking to you about this now, I am airing my views. Like me, there are so many others who have also been treated in the same way.”

Actor Ali Safina, in a long post, declared, ‘The reason why I am writing this is because I feel that these days it seems that anyone can put on an award show where they pretend to honor artists of our industry just to make some gains on ticket money but the ones who suffer in the end are people like me who never signed up for this disrespect but still got dragged into it…’

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Significantly, Ali said, ‘… Meanwhile it’s a sure shot business model for these fraudulent organisers to mint money where artists are not being even paid for their presence or performances. Kya aap logon n kabhi travel nahi kiya ya phir 5 star hotel mein rehne ka yehi ek mauqa miley ga? If you don’t care about your own self worth at least don’t take the whole industry down with you.’

Apparently, a lot of local celebs are willing to attend an event in exchange for a free paid international trip

Clearly, Ali was saying something that we suspected all along: a lot of local artists willingly attend an awards ceremony abroad just for the free ticket and hotel stay. The organisers gain from their celebrity appearance and yet, they don’t pay them for making an appearance. Moreover, certain local celebs are so overjoyed at the free trip and the chartered plane ride, that they generate mileage for the event by Instagramming about it constantly.


An insider reveals that the PISA team hadn’t initially expected that major stars would agree to make an appearance at their event. They came up with long lists of nominees and invited them all, truly intending to fly them off to Dubai. But then, stars like Humayun Saeed, Mahira Khan and Ali Zafar also agreed to come to the show and the PISA budget began to stretch thin.


That’s great for the organisers but it does mean that celebrities are selling them for too little. Actor Ahsan Khan, who is often part of awards ceremonies in Pakistan and abroad, observes, “I think that we all need to support events that celebrate Pakistani talent but at the same time, actors are not realising their self-worth when they decide to go somewhere just for a free trip."

"I was also approached for these awards but I didn’t respond because it is easy to assess when something is credible and when it isn’t. I think that everyone needs to have enough self-respect and foresight to understand what events they need to avoid.”

The question is: why did this new awards ceremony blunder so badly at a time when it needs to gather support from the Pakistani entertainment fraternity?

The PISA, of course, are claiming that the disorganisation was due to teething issues. This was their very first attempt at putting together an awards ceremony and they muddled up the travel plans of some of the people that they had initially invited.

Read: I don’t want to be disrespected for the sake of a show’s rating, says Sajal Aly of the Lux Style Awards

However, according to the grapevine, the PISA team hadn’t initially expected that major stars would agree to make an appearance at their event. They came up with long lists of nominees and invited them all, truly intending to fly them off to Dubai.

But then, stars like Humayun Saeed, Mahira Khan and Ali Zafar also agreed to come to the show and the PISA budget began to stretch thin. Ultimately, they decided to very quietly ‘un-invite’ certain others, conveniently choosing to disappear on them rather than inform them that plans had changed.

Spotted: Mahira Khan and Momina Mustehsan on the PISA red carpet
Spotted: Mahira Khan and Momina Mustehsan on the PISA red carpet

If this was the case, then certainly it was a teething issue. Had the team been better organised, they would have decided upon their guest list at the very onset and not had to pick and choose who they would be flying out to Dubai. But even the fact that this was their first time is no excuse for insulting so many artists who have worked hard on their careers.

The ones in Dubai sadly chose to ignore the disorganisation

Furthermore, even if the organisers did mess things up, it’s disheartening that the stars who did reach Dubai didn’t say anything in support of their peers. A free trip to Dubai – or anywhere else in the world for that matter – is no excuse for not speaking out for your co-artistes.

Perhaps artists didn’t want to say anything so that they would still be on the guest list at the next round of awards. But is an international paid vacation so important that you can’t even float out a single tweet against something which is so clearly wrong?

“That’s just how we are,” says Teepu Sharif. “We are not united as a nation, how can we be united as an industry? ‘Ya sheikh apni apni dekh’ – it’s every man for himself.”

But what did happen at PISA last night?

Nevertheless, the celebrities who didn’t go may take heart in the fact that the event itself went through a number of hitches. Reportedly, the red carpet, set to begin at 5 p.m., started off much later because, in true desi-style, a number of stars came late.

And the show reportedly began at 10 p.m. But the venue, the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, had stringent rules and regulations and after midnight, the organisers began to get fined colossal sums by the hour.

Ultimately, the show had to be cut short and ended at 2 a.m. Some of the performances got skipped – namely, those by Aima Baig, Strings and Hira Mani – who was apparently going to make her debut dance performance.

A large number of awards also couldn’t be given out. As time began to run short, the categories quickly spiraled to the Best Actor and Actress announcements that were supposed to come at the very end. The supporting actors and actresses had to be ignored.

In an official statement from PISA, it was said, “… Overall, this inaugural event was a huge success in creating the buzz around Pakistan and its artist community … Without doubt that the event encountered many challenges to say the least. An event of this magnitude is a huge undertaking and consequently if anyone during this process has been let down or have been miscommunicated then PISA team takes full responsibility of it."

"We by no means intended to disrespect any of our prestigious guests … We hope that we have achieved some momentum with our partners and supporters and the team that worked tirelessly for months to bring this to fruition. We also hope to make PISA an annual event for years to come and improve from the learnings from this year’s event.”

Hasan Rizvi of BBPR, handling the PR of the event, commented, “There was a lot of mismanagement to our respected guests for which we apologise. Our intention was never to disrespect anyone. We didn’t receive tickets for many guests for several reasons including unavailability of seats. In awards of this magnitude, there are definitely teething issues but we hope that PISA eventually becomes a platform that makes Pakistanis all over the world proud. The show yesterday was everything we could imagine. May we all continue to support each other and celebrate Pakistani cinema and fashion.”

We should be asking ourselves what value and credibility events like PISA bring to the table.
We should be asking ourselves what value and credibility events like PISA bring to the table.

But how were the PISA’s extending their support to the local artist community by ignoring some and lauding others, even flying them out on a private jet? How was the show everything that could be imagined, when it was allegedly cut short?

As Osman Khalid Butt pointed out, “This is about disrespecting the same fraternity folk you’ve advertised your ceremony around.”

Let’s not gloss over the facts. And teething issues notwithstanding, an artist community that does not support each other needs to work on correcting itself.

The PISA’s blundered – other events that suddenly decide to crawl out of the woodworks may also do us. The real problem, though, lies with us and the way we are willing to override each other on our own quest for a free ride, a free trip, a chance to gloat over Instagram.


Additional reporting by Irfan Ul Haq.

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