“You have to see the long-term benefits,” says actor-producer Humayun Saeed.
“You have to see the long-term benefits,” says actor-producer Humayun Saeed.

The recently culminated Pakistan International Screen Awards (PISA’s) in Dubai unleashed plenty of controversy and social media memes last weekend.

The awards, starting off an ambitious note by flying a few stars to Dubai on a private jet, came to a not so positive end with plenty of artists feeling ‘insulted’ and the organisers themselves accepting that the disorganisation was due to ‘teething issues’.

But amidst all the hue and cry, Faisal Khan of Mesmerise Events, the organiser of the awards, has a fond memory to share: “The show started with Pakistan’s national anthem and everyone in the auditorium stood up out of respect. I got goosebumps. Here, outside of Pakistan, people of so many different nationalities were standing up for our anthem. I don’t think that’s ever happened before in such a large venue, at an international event.”

International entertainment-based events may reap benefits in the long run

This recollection emphasises that an event like PISA, even if it may have faltered in its first attempt, may serve a more important purpose in the long run: create a better global image of Pakistan and Pakistani entertainment.

The PISA’s were staged at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, the first awards event to take place at the prestigious venue. India’s Filmfare Awards are scheduled to take place here later this year.


“These events take time to get streamlined but at least someone is investing into Pakistani entertainment. 15 years ago, I remember that there would be all these small Bollywood-centric awards taking place abroad. Their stars still attended them and they didn’t sit back and criticise. We need to look at the bigger picture and start supporting our events.”


Also, while there may be actors who agree to come to an event in lieu of a paid vacation abroad, there are many others who are being paid to come simply because they have enough clout to add credibility to the event or are hosting or performing on stage. In this way, international events are opening up a new revenue stream for Pakistani actors.

Read: Nabeel Zafar will not be attending the Pakistan International Screen Awards. Here's why

“You have to see the long-term benefits,” says actor-producer Humayun Saeed.

“These events take time to get streamlined but at least someone is investing into Pakistani entertainment. 15 years ago, I remember that there would be all these small Bollywood-centric awards taking place abroad. Their stars still attended them and they didn’t sit back and criticise. We need to look at the bigger picture and start supporting our events.”

Fahad Mirza takes a selfie with fans outside the Coca Cola Arena
Fahad Mirza takes a selfie with fans outside the Coca Cola Arena

But while organisers may be investing into Pakistani entertainment, their intentions obviously can’t be altruistic.

Business is generated through ticket sales and, as an event becomes more well-known, there is a chance to earn profits. “Still, at least they are trying. What if they didn’t try at all? We’d still be standing where we were two decades ago,” points out Humayun.

Norway calling with the IPPA’s

The International Pakistan Prestige Awards (IPPA’s) is one such awards ceremony that has been taking place regularly for three years now. For the first two years, Ali Malik, IPPA’s CEO and founder, flew celebrities to London for the show.

This year, a considerable entourage was jetted off to Norway. Pictures were ecstatically posted on Instagram by stars, posing against a snowy landscape, having snowball fights and then, braving the cold while slipping into the inevitable gowns for awards night.

Hard to say no to a free vacation, a number of celebrities attended and performed at the IPPA'S
Hard to say no to a free vacation, a number of celebrities attended and performed at the IPPA'S

Even then, there were whispers of a few hitches here and there. Then again, star-studded events taking place in Pakistan also face speedbumps, simply because of the difficulties of managing a large number of celebrities, many of whom have a tendency to come late.

Read more: Were the IPPAs Pakistan's most meaningless awards show?

Ali Malik recalls, “When we did the IPPA’s for the first time, even we got criticised. There were a few initial problems that we overcame the next year. It is not easy to take a large number of people to a different country and to organize their stay there. Gradually, things are now falling into place for us. I am happy that I am building an international platform for my country.”

Surely, Ali must also be happy with the ticket sales?

“Of course, every venture has to be business-oriented but sometimes, ticket sales can’t equal the investments that have been made. Events like ours also depend on support from sponsors but with the current economic situation, we have had to deal with sponsors working on lower budgets or backing out altogether. It takes a lot of effort to continue with staging a yearly ceremony despite these obstacles.”

What went wrong with the PISA’s

PISA’s organiser, Faisal Khan, similarly talks about the considerable investments required to stage an international event for Pakistan – and what went wrong.

“I tried my very best but I suppose I didn’t realize the many complications involved in putting up an event like this completely on my own. I am involved in organising different events in Dubai and it used to sadden me that whenever people heard of a Pakistani event, they would associate it with a show taking place in a marriage hall in a three-star hotel. I wanted to improve that image which is why I chose a prime venue and made sure that my guests stayed in a prestigious hotel like the Versace.”

Many celebrities called out the organisers for snubbing and ghosting them (not these guys though)
Many celebrities called out the organisers for snubbing and ghosting them (not these guys though)

There were a number of other problems that hadn’t been foreseen. There were guests who committed belatedly and others, who refused to fly by certain airlines. Stars also tended to demand business class tickets and ultimately, only limited seats could be arranged and while some did manage to go to Dubai, others did not. Also, the guests arrived several hours late to the show which meant that after midnight, heavy fines began to get charged.

“This doesn’t excuse our own errors but it means that we’ll be better prepared next time,” says Faisal.

Also read: The most interesting thing about PISA was what went down behind the scenes

So there is going to be a next time for the PISA’s, despite the heavy duty flak it endured with its first attempt? "Yes and I am going to try and invite more people and make the event bigger, better,” he says.

Why ‘awards’?

We certainly hope so but why do all international events have to be coined under the ‘awards’ gimmick? Why can’t actors just come for a show? Is it necessary to stoke actors’ egos by awarding them with golden trophies?

“My intention always was to host an independent awards ceremony without pandering to any one particular organisation or channel,” says Ali Malik. “Our awards recognize performers working with multiple different channels.”

Faisal Khan similarly says, “I wanted to celebrate Pakistani talent by awarding them based purely on voting lines.”


Within Pakistan, awards ceremonies are either associated with particular channels or have miffed far too many egos, with stars publicly declaring that they refuse to attend. In contrast, the PISA’s boasted a dazzling guest-list. That’s an effort well done. But there should have been more. Pakistani talent, slowly building its repertoire, deserves so much more than events in hotel ballrooms or others, that are mired with controversy.


Sultana Siddiqui, Chairperson of the HUM Network speaks of her experience of organizing her channel’s annual awards ceremony at international locations for two years now: “The event just has to be done well, without disrespecting anyone. You become an ambassador for your country if you go about things properly. At this year’s HUM Awards in the U.S, local dignitaries also attended our event. And Pakistanis came up to me and told me that they felt proud that they could come to a show purely celebrating talent from their own country.”

Jerjees Seja, CEO of ARY Digital, offers a more holistic perspective: “Firstly, everyone likes to be appreciated. Artists like it when they are given awards. But also, an event taking place abroad has to deliver on star-power in order to draw an audience and bring ticket sales. Pakistan right now only has a handful of celebrities who have the star power to make an event a success, via ticket sales or even TV ratings. A show that features A-listers as well as more up and coming celebrities will always be more popular. But to achieve that, the show has to be an ‘awards ceremony’.”

“Over time, I hope that this changes. We could have theatrical performances where top stars enact a play on stage. We could have shows that boast the biggest names performing on stage. But a considerable financial risk would be involved in a project like that. The organisers and actors would have to put in more effort. It’s more easy to just put together an awards event where everyone just comes for a few days, enjoys a free all-paid vacation and then leaves.”

If everyone wins, what's the point?
If everyone wins, what's the point?

International events based around Pakistani talent are still in their fledgling years. It is likely that curated shows and performances are still a long way off. For now, ‘awards’ are going to be seen more frequently, with golden trophies being presented left, right and center.

It is important to note that the PISA’s, for all its faults, was one of the most well-attended awards ceremonies to be seen in recent times. Within Pakistan, awards ceremonies are either associated with particular channels or have miffed far too many egos, with stars publicly declaring that they refuse to attend. In contrast, the PISA’s boasted a dazzling guest-list. That’s an effort well done.

But there should have been more. Pakistani talent, slowly building its repertoire, deserves so much more than events in hotel ballrooms or others, that are mired with controversy. Maybe in the coming years, international events, as they strengthen, will prove our talent with a better platform.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to judge.

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