Instep Today

Learning from PISA Awards 2020

Instep Today
By Sadiq Saleem
Mon, 02, 20

Pakistan has reached a pinnacle of sorts in the field of entertainment after a decade. By and large, the cinema industry struggled last year due to the simple fact that not enough films and blockbusters were made. With the New Year opening with arbitrary censorship, hope still lives as films are still being produced.

New names are emerging; cinema in 2020 is looking very promising and the following of Pakistani TV dramas continues to be extensive, going well-beyond geographical lines.

Art is not validated by awards but an award means being rewarded for your work amidst your peers, and when televised, fans. When the Lux Style Awards happen, the lack of nomination of an artist or vice versa can create heated debate. But award ceremonies also provide a chance for artists from various fields – be it television or film or music or fashion – a chance to rub shoulders and meet and greet each other.

Now, having said that, let us talk about the latest award ceremony that has arrived to recognize and reward Pakistani talent.

‘To appreciate the sun, you gotta know what rain is’

As much as all major publications as well as media houses have appreciated the effort that went behind the first edition of Pakistan International Screen Awards (PISA) 2020, the critical noise has also been deafening.

Some celebrities were not sent tickets. Bloggers, who create digital buzz (for one thing), were not invited to cover the show; some artists who wanted business class tickets for their entire family were not accommodated, so on and so forth.

Thankfully, the noise that truly mattered that night was the noise of fans, who had gathered at the arena and were cheering for their favorite stars.

I was the Show Caller and Backstage Director that night; my main responsibility was to get artists and presenters on stage as per the flow design of the ceremony. Based on my experience of handling backstage responsibilities at the Lux Style Awards, I was hired for more or less a similar role at PISA 2020.

The show started around 9.30 pm and by the time it reached the last set of awards, it was already 3:00 am. As a result, some performances had to be dropped because it was way past the arena’s closure time. The arena’s security team was actually standing at the console tower, pressurizing the director to drop the curtain and call it a night.

The delay was no fault of the management. It happened because none of the stars (except Meera) had adhered to the time stated for the red carpet. Not even a single star showed up until 8.30 pm and it was little past 10:00 pm when everyone took their seats.

Then we had Jawed Sheikh sahab who was presenting the set of Lifetime Achievement Awards without realising that he had been on stage for almost 40 minutes (he was scheduled for 15 minutes). This time extension applied to many other presenters and winners. I understand that it wasn’t intentional and the event allowed the artists to enjoy their moment on stage. But when things got ridiculously late, the event producer took a call to give away the major awards and wrap things up.

Shiamak Davar, the iconic Indian choreographer’s performers had been hired and they had been practising tirelessly for over a month. Some of our stars, who were flown in a few days before the event to rehearse for their acts, were busy shopping in Dubai Mall and were too tired to join the rehearsals. The host of the night had to be asked at least 7 to 8 times during the show to come out of the green room to say his lines. The same host, who had designed the flow, had not shared the presenters’ list till the last minute. When it came to the actual show, there was a lot of disinterest from our stars. One of the actresses - whose performance got dropped - was actually due on stage long before her performance but she sent a message that she didn’t want to reveal her costumes and therefore didn’t want to go on stage.

There was a lot that went wrong from the Pakistani PR team side as well. The agency that was hired in Pakistan to deal with the artists mismanaged the guest list too. They approached and then pulled a disappearing act on so many artistes.

However, irrespective of these flaws, which should be thought upon for the future, I would say that given it was the first edition of PISAs, the turnout was very good. Everyone who matters in show business showed up and was kind enough to sit through the long proceedings. They were appreciative of the fact that an international autonomous body is finally recognizing the Pakistani artists.

Ali Zafar, who was not feeling too well, was also patient with the delays and even gave a phenomenal medley performance at the end.

‘Tell me why are we, so blind to see that the ones we hurt, are you and me’

A day after PISA 2020, I started getting calls and messages from senior artists, who were left behind and even some journalists, enquiring about how to make things look worse. Some stars back home commented that our stars should refrain from attending award shows for free. I am not sure who was paid and how much but what I do know is that, at the moment, our stars need visibility. Sorry to burst their bubble, but our artists do not have enough star power to guarantee sold-out events.

Coming back to the PISAs, I met a few stars the next morning - Hira, Mani, Zara Noor Abbas, Frieha, Mahira, etc. – and most of them took all of this in a very mature fashion. They understood that every debut event goes through ups and downs and hopefully someone, somewhere was taking notes so they could come back next year with better plans, zero miscommunication, improved time management and some loyal PR partners. I have managed events with Catwalk, I have been part of the LSAs, IIFAs and Filmfare Awards so I know what a task it is to manage stars. I know that nothing is flawless when it comes to live events. While low budget shows come a dime a dozen, I am hopeful and aware that PISA has the potential to be a strong bridge between Pakistan’s entertainment industry and the Middle East or even beyond.

– Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai based entertainment journalist and can be contacted on his page fb/sidsaidso.