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(Published in the October 2011 issue of Herald)

2007: Aaminah Haq and Atif Aslam performed to a frantic audience in Malaysia.

The Lux Style Awards celebrate their tenth anniversary amidst national crises and raised eyebrows. Can the annual event survive this inhospitable climate? Here’s why it’s so important that it does…

Take a minute to imagine how it was back in 2007. A special plane to Kuala Lumpur was chartered by Unilever to fly over 200 people who couldn’t be accommodated in regular flights. These 200 people were a heady mix of celebrities, musicians, fashion designers, models and the regular swarm of journalists whipping up every possible story. Pop band Raeth serenaded ‘pilgrims’ through the flight all night while Tapu Javeri and his candid camera captured some of its most memorable moments. Sixteen hours and a long bus ride later, these 200 people disembarked at Genting Highlands to be united with 200 more from where they came from. It was a year that elevated Pakistan’s fashion and entertainment to giddy heights. Quite literally.

The Malaysian hill station was lined with billboards advertising the Lux Style Awards and tucked away within the labyrinth of hotels, Atif Aslam was practicing how to balance himself on a flying carpet while Ali Zafar was trying to balance Reema on a bicycle without falling over. While HSY gymed his days away to look like a lean machine every evening, Ali Azmat preferred to stick it out at the spa, massages more desirable to him than muscle builders. It was a great year, the very best year for the Lux Style Awards, and it left a very lasting impression of life and optimism for years to come.

2006: Shaan performed on stage for the very first time in his career.

2007 may have been the best but it was certainly not the only good year. For many people Malaysia came after the build up and hype of 2006, when befitting and fabulous homages were offered to Pakistani legends. Runa Laila was flown in to serenade her classic songs, Nazia and Zohaib Hassan were reincarnated in the fresh and talented Anoushey Ashraf and Ali Kazmi. And in the finale that year, Shaan took to stage to dance for the very first time in his life. His segment with screen idol Saima, was heralded by all and sundry, his smoldering good looks reminding Pakistan why he was and still is its biggest super star alive. All of this happened in Karachi, at the Expo Centre that also hosted the tenth annual Lux Style Awards last month.

Initiated under the vision of Musharaf Hai, Chairperson of Unilever who had a flair for fashion and a commitment to liberal arts, the Lux Style Awards took off in 2002. They were fuelled by the passion of two other powerful women: Fareshteh Aslam, Brand Manager who kept the show going with an ownership as fierce as parenthood and Frieha Altaf, Production and Show Director who would turn up to get the set built even when the city shut down for dangerous monsoon downpours. Under their supervision the LSAs have survived ten years; they enjoyed a steady rise for five years until 2007 when they experienced the zenith of their existence.

The show in 2003 may have been taken behind closed doors in respect of the recently started war on Iraq but that just meant that the guest list was toned down. The show, directed by Asim Reza was perfection in terms of glamour and sophistication. It was when Nabila had styled the event and Babra Sharif had made her very first public appearance in years. Moin Akhtar, who was eulogized at the ceremony this year, had hosted the show in 2003, his delightful brand of comedy sparing neither designer nor musician.

2004: Not quite the superstar she is now, Priyanka Chopra was flown in to perform at the LSAs held in Dubai

People may have forgotten, but the LSAs hosted in Dubai in 2004 actually featured a dance sequence by Priyanka Chopra (she wasn’t such a big star back then) and a live concert by Sonu Nigam. It was criticized for being an ‘Indianized’ event that took the focus away from Pakistani stars but at least it was an event that sparkled brightly. The camaraderie amongst Pakistani stars and celebrities was amazing back then. One remembers Priyanka Chopra getting a back-stage dressing room to herself and Tariq Amin (who had styled the event that year) protesting that he wouldn’t work unless a) PC’s star treatment was reduced or b) his, meaning Pakistani stars, were given private dressing rooms too. It’s difficult to forget that one of his so-called stars disappeared wearing millions worth of borrowed diamonds, but that’s besides the point. They were recovered, by the way.

2008 at the Golf Club Karachi had its moments with Atif Aslam, Shahzad Roy and Reshma but the year will be remembered more for the squabble between Shaan Ali and Iman, both honoured for their performances in Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye. It was the last time either of them attended. In 2009 the LSAs were cancelled and reduced to a photo shoot at a private studio and in 2010, last year, they were hosted as a formal black tie dinner. No performances, no glamour and no glitz.

The sparkle that the Lux Style Awards once had were lost to the tsunami of unfortunate events that Pakistan was bombarded with: earthquakes, floods, military coups, economic crunches, bombings and blasts. The bombings have still not stopped. But thankfully neither have the Lux Style Awards.

The Lux Style Awards have become a tradition that desperately needs to continue and here’s why:

If it weren’t for the LSAs, a young Pakistani generation wouldn’t know who Runa Laila was, who Nahid Akhter and Mahnaaz were or what Nazia and Zohaib Hassan were popular for. Sufi music came to life with Saeen Zahoor. These legends have been revived on this platform. There are so many that still need to be honoured: Sajjad Ali, Amanat Ali, Alamgir, Mohammad Ali Sheiki, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Mussarat Nazir, Tassawar Khanum, Sabri Qawwal, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Madam Nur Jehan, above all.

“When a man is nearing death he needs oxygen to survive,” the legendary Mahnaaz, invited from Miami this year, said with regards to the LSAs. “When these events take place one feels that the people are being heard. There is still spark in the people of this country. There is a passion to live. Despite everything I still don’t think they are ready to burn out just as yet. Entertainment gives them a new lease on life.”

“It also delivers something other than bad news to us,” she said on behalf of Pakistan’s expatriate population. “The continuous bad news gets a little too much to digest at times.”

2005: Babra Sharif looked better than ever.

Other than honour the golden, the LSAs have also been a platform to nurture the green. The stage is sacred and this stage has been no less important in cultivating a new breed of talent. Anoushey Ashraf, Ayesha Omar and Ali Kazmi have performed on it as have others like Annie, Jal and Fawad Khan. This year introduced HSY, Mathira, fashion model/actress Aamina Sheikh and her husband Mohib as brilliant dance performers.

“Seriously, this is really important to me as this is going to be my first stage performance ever. Dancing in front of a mirror is one thing but meri koshish hai,” Mathira spoke to us at the rehearsals one day ahead of the show. “I think the Lux Style Awards are really important because they give newcomers a chance; it’s just wonderful and hats off to Frieha (Altaf) for carrying everything.”

“We had completely forgotten Mahnaaz jees fabulous songs,” Mathira added. “We are being reminded and our next generation will learn about the legends that were created in Pakistan. They need to know there is more to this country than suicide bombings. That’s a huge plus point.”

“For me this has become a cause,” veteren ad-film director Asim Reza also spoke in favour of the awards. “It has become a cause to keep the liberal arts alive in Pakistan and the LSAs help in fighting that cause.”

Other than contributions to music and film, fashion has also found a concrete platform in the Lux Style Awards. The nomination and award process is still considered slightly controversial (to every category there are four whiners and one winner) but no one can dispute the relevance of an accolade that has seen no parallel even in a decade. Acknowledgement means a lot to an artist and the Lux Style Awards have given that nod of approval to the fashion industry even though the appreciation isn’t always reciprocated.

(Photographs from LSA archives by Faisal Farooqui) 

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