Celebrating a 20-year journey in the midst of a pandemic isn’t easy. SOPs have to be followed, limited guest lists have to be devised and celebrities have to be disentangled and told to keep a ‘six-foot distance’ when they huddle together for a selfie.
The Lux Style Awards (LSAs) this year certainly didn’t have it easy.
However, how could 20 years invested into shaping Pakistan’s fashion and entertainment industries not be celebrated? Squaring its shoulders, mask on, the LSAs decided that the show must go on. It was a show unlike any other LSA. Covid, it turned out, was not the only obstacle that the awards faced. There’s more on that later.
A studio space was chosen as the venue and duly transformed. The red carpet was laid out, a ‘lounge’ was set up with neon LSA signs and a sized-down seating area for the audience featured tables for one, all six feet apart. The stage was gilded in golden lights, a 3D installation with winding stairs, podiums at both ends and huge SMD screens flashing in the backdrop.
And yet, what I heard time and again was show organiser Frieha Altaf announcing, “We’re rolling this!” After sitting through the ceremony for about seven hours and returning home with a backache, I even heard it once I fell asleep.
Attending an event in the ‘new normal’ comes with its orthopaedic complications, even if it’s the most prestigious award ceremony of the year. This wasn’t unexpected. Select media, including myself, invited to the show had been informed that it was going to be a recorded show, which meant that we saw some of the performances two times in a row. We sat through ‘links’, connecting one segment to the other, even if the segment had already been filmed on stage. We were also relegated to separate segments divided between music, fashion and TV. Nominees from each segment were invited for their particular time slot in an effort to rein in the number of attendees.
Yumna Zaidi, after winning the Best Actress Critics Award for her role in the drama Pyar ke Sadqay, came on stage to present the award for Best Emerging Talent and host Ahmed Ali Butt asked her how it felt to be at the LSAs. She replied that it felt wonderful particularly after winning to which Butt grinned and told her, “Oh, but on TV you haven’t won yet!”
“Let’s roll again!” reverberated Frieha’s voice from her vantage point and their segment was filmed again.
The repetition may have had been tiring but for the awards aficionado, it was also regaling. This was an insider’s look into how a star-studded show is filmed. At one point, Butt was changing jackets in the front row for a stage performance to which Frieha joked from the control area, “This is the first time that my performers are changing clothes in the front row!”
The off-the-record banter, coupled with snippets of dances, awards announcements and on-stage commentary, recorded and sometimes re-recorded, formed the essence of the 20th LSA. The mind boggles at how the jigsaw puzzle will eventually be pieced together into a single, smooth show. Show director Frieha Altaf and TV director Nadeem J are likely to spend a few weeks in the editing room hereon. I don’t envy them.
But even in their disjointed, Covid-induced predicament, the LSAs had their highs.
There were special ‘LSA moments’ that had the limited audience cheering. There were surprise wins that sent social media into a frenzy of comments. There were elated winners happily giving their acceptance speeches. It was a pity that a grandiose, extensive ceremony couldn’t be planned out but it was still quite wonderful to see so many power players from fashion, entertainment and music filtering into the main hall one after the other.
What made the show work, particularly, was how this year’s performers and hosts were chosen well. There have been awards shows of yore where the best stars have turned out to be the worst hosts, unable to string the ceremony together. The hosts this time though couldn’t have worked better. Ahsan Khan, Mansha Pasha, Mehwish Hayat and Butt were pros on stage; quipping, talking to the winners and even breaking out into a dance now and again. It was Ahsan Khan’s birthday and his co-host Mehwish Hayat sang happy birthday for him as did Butt.
When actor Hareem Farooq came on stage to present awards, Ahsan commented that she hadn’t wished him. “Attention-seeker,” mumbled Butt. That’s the sort of repartee that has you grinning when you see it on TV.
After having seen Butt umpteen times as an on-stage host, I can say that a ceremony simply can’t go wrong when selecting him. He has easily mastered being the affable, witty host and is in his element in the spotlight. When comedian Tabish Hashmi came on stage, he joked that the LSAs always chose Butt as a host so that they wouldn’t have to give him an award.
Hashmi, the host of the To Be Honest show that airs on the Nashpati Prime YouTube channel, put out a rollicking act. In the segment that I managed to see, he roamed through the audience — at a six feet distance, you know! — roasting them. Going up to ‘it’ rap duo, Young Stunners, he asked them what they would call themselves 20 or 30 years later. One of them replied that they’d change the name to "Middle Age Stunners" to which Hashmi deadpanned, "Call yourself Faysal Quraishi Stunners so that you could fit into any age group!"
A little later he said he had heard that people hugged and kissed at award events but the coronavirus had come along and ruined his plans. “These SOPs have been devised just for you,” co-host Mansha Pasha had quipped.
A major element contributing to the show’s success was the script written by Filmwala Pictures’ Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza. The conversations were always entertaining and also, never politically incorrect. Hashmi, meanwhile, wrote his particular segment himself. Also very entertaining. This comedian may just become the next big awards show favourite.
The moves and grooves
The usual spate of celebrity performances were there — but not all could be seen by the media. I was told that a grand LSA anthem with a whopping 32 participants had been recorded in the morning and while it would have been interesting to see, I was glad that I didn’t have to sit through the recording. Evidently, it took five retakes before it was shot seamlessly! And while one loves celebrities and the LSAs, there is a limit to the love.
I did manage to see some of the performances — twice. Resham danced beautifully in a tribute to Farida Khanum, joined by Ahsan Khan in the end. Asim Azhar gave a poignant tribute to the many stars who had passed away in the last year.
Mahira Khan, Sheheryar Munawar and Butt were spectacular in the hit song from the movie Parey Hut Love. Later, Mahira danced to another song from the movie, the lilting 'More Saiyaan’. The finale, amidst confetti and a brilliant burst of colour, was also from the same movie’s soundtrack.
And while Parey Hut Love’s OST was a brilliant one, it’s been a while since the movie’s release. Other movies had also released simultaneously. The fact that this one soundtrack was relied upon, hints at one of the many problems that are simmering beneath the 20-year-old LSA veneer…
Simmering beneath the surface
Award show performances are dependent on film producers for copyrights to movie songs that can be utilised in the show. However, this year ARY Digital, one of the country’s leading TV channels and film producers, had backed out from the nominations. It is possible that the channel had refused to allow copyrights for most of their movies.
There was also a marked absence of many of the nominees. It was surprising, considering that a large number of stars have been floating out news of their nominations on social media. The ones who hadn’t been slotted in had been making snide comments. The LSA nominations, recognising only a handful within a burgeoning entertainment and fashion industry, certainly continue to be a big deal.
But sadly, it seems that over a 20-year run, the celebrity ego has bloated out of proportion. Unless they are winning, they won’t turn up. The one impressive exception seemed to be Ahad Raza Mir who had two nominations in the Best Actor category but didn’t win. He turned up regardless and that’s just how it should be.
It also was how it used to be. Twenty years down the line, the LSA is a powerful behemoth. The silver trophy remains coveted. But from a time when it was bolstering a fledgling industry, it is now encountering power games and insecurities. It is undeniable that a large chunk of the attendees at the 20th celebration consisted of celebrities that had been enlisted to be part of the show and media.
For those that were there, the LSA rollercoaster was a long winded one, with plenty of pauses, bumps, reverse motions, pinnacles and slumps. It was a fun night, but also a long, exhausting one. Two decades in, the LSAs command enough respect and love to induce one to shrug away the exhaustion. The backache only comes later. The show must go on.
And it’s so good that show has gone on, regardless of a pandemic and petty celebrity egos.