By Maliha Rehman
Some would think that not much happened in 2021 – but then again, so much did. With the world somersaulting between highs and lows of the coronavirus waves, there were some very evident changes taking place in the worlds of entertainment and fashion.
It was a year when TV continued to rule supreme while cinema slowly shook off the cobwebs. It was a year when the fashion show catwalk dabbled with a socially distanced format. It was a year when a major awards ceremony was staged as a recording of a live show. And it was a year when social media took over with little snippets of gossip, insider stories and major announcements.
Looking at the year that was 2021 in retrospect, here is a motley crew of awards in remembrance of all the many, many headliners who stood out all through the year …
Trailblazer of the Year Award – Sajal Aly
Sajal Aly has always been a trailblazer; an acting force to reckon with and one of Pakistan’s best-loved stars. There’s no denying that when Sajal comes on screen, she lights it up with a unique iridescent magic. This year she set new benchmarks by venturing out into Hollywood’s competitive playing field with a movie that is going to be releasing in 2022. Directed by Shekhar Kapoor, with Jemima Goldsmith as co-producer and scriptwriter, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ will feature Sajal alongside renowned veterans like Shabana Azmi and Emma Thompson. What a proud, proud achievement!
It is also appreciable that Sajal simultaneously continued to build her repertoire in Pakistan, staying true to her roots even while touching Hollywood’s lofty heights. She is currently acting in two high-end projects, the multi-starrer Sinf-e-Aahan on ARY Digital and the HUM TV Network’s Ishq-e-Laa. She was also seen in the movie ‘Khel Khel Mein’ where her acting was, as always, impressive – despite the fact that the movie was not.
‘Bring On The Gossip’/Best Villain Award – Ahsan Khan
Half-smiling, bantering easily, Ahsan Khan met a constant flow of celebrity guests – and how the gossip flowed! Talk show hosting certainly comes easily to the actor and he would merely ask an unassuming question and it would bring forth a deluge of candid admissions, caustic remarks and insider details. In his talk show on Express TV, Time Out with Ahsan Khan, the actor has proven his prowess as a host and clips from his interviews have trended on social media throughout the year.
He also plays easily with the feel-good factor; dancing spontaneously with his guests, joking, laughing. His audience smiles right along with him.
However, Ahsan Khan’s hosting trysts are not the only reason why he has been in the news all through 2021. His drama ‘Qayamat’, a whopping 41 episode long odyssey, would have had been forgotten as the usual saas-bahu story had Ahsan not amped up the plot with his exceptional portrayal of the no-good, manipulative Rashid. He has now wrapped up the year acting brilliantly in yet another villainous role in the drama ‘Qissa Meherbano Ka’, a drama that tackles the sensitive topic of marital rape.
Best International Endorsement Award – Shaan Masala and Gigi Hadid
Brands set aside huge budgets for celebrity endorsements and international collaborations are rare, fastidiously planned projects. However, the best sort of endorsement can be one that takes place organically – such as when supermodel Gigi Hadid revealed boxes of Shaan Masalas in her pantry cupboards while randomly showing her Insta-followers around her home.
It was very cool – and the folks over at Shaan Masala were understandably delighted, resharing the news and even creating a few memes around it.
From Acting to Ace Author Award – Mira Sethi
“Are you enjoying?” asked Mira Sethi in a book replete with witty wordplay and engaging, no-holds-barred storytelling. Published by Bloomsbury Publishing and winning rave reviews, Mira’s first book is indicative of new directions that she may chalk in the future, far from the madding crowd of generic roles in TV dramas. Pakistani TV, after all, does tend to thrive on repetitive stories and the way forward can sometimes be by simultaneously pursuing other, more creatively exciting, paths.
On the acting front, the year has also been a positive one for Mira. She was in her element as the mean, scheming ‘Gul’ in the Ramzan hit drama ‘Chupke Chupke’. Unapologetically evil – except in the last few episodes – Mira made the audience hate Gul wholeheartedly, which was the whole point anyway.
TV’s Hit Hero Award – Wahaj Ali
Slowly, surely, Wahaj Ali has been building his repertoire with carefully selected roles that manage to catch attention and win rave reviews. From the hard-hitting social narrative of Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahin to the chocolate hero in Ishq Jalebi to wrapping up with year with the sensitive historical storyline of Jo Bichar Gaye, Wahaj exemplifies that it is possible to be a hit hero without succumbing to mundane but commercially successful tropes.
2021 marked the upwards spiral of the actor’s career but the future is rife with even more possibilities!
‘Supporting the local flower business’ award – Falak Shabir
“I want other husbands to look at me and aspire to be the same way,” Falak Shabir had commented during a casual interview some time during 2021.
On that pretext, he’s certainly giving husbands all over the world a run for their money. The singer and husband to Sarah Khan is a proficient Instagram user and by virtue of this, we know that Falak gives Sarah a rose or two (or more) every single day. All through the year, from Sarah’s pregnancy to the birth of their daughter to their first trip with the baby, Falak doesn’t seem to have had skipped out on the daily dose of roses: at the mall, at home, there was even one Instastory where she had a rose with her while she slept (did it make her sneeze, though?).
A beaming Sarah Khan obviously loves it and it’s sweet – which is why this particular accolade has to be set aside for Falak. Let’s hope the love – and the roses – continue forever and ever even if they eventually get bored of floating it all out on social media (will they?). I do love a happily ever after.
‘Best 40th Birthday Party’ Award – Fawad Khan
Fawad Khan may just have started off a bandwagon where a whole lot of stars will be scheduling their birthday parties on foreign soil. However, he was the first, flying off with a select crowd of friends and family to Dubai and livin’ la vida loca with a birthday celebration that took off on a yacht and was followed by a dinner party.
That’s how you turn 40, in style! How very starry and lavish – and very, very expensive. There has been plenty of conjecture about the birthday. Was it sponsored? Did the guests come on their own or were they on an all-expenses paid vacation? People want to know, especially all the many, many people who are now vying to have similar birthday parties abroad. I think we’ve witnessed the beginning of a trend.
Fawad Khan and wife Sadaf Fawad Khan looked radiant as did their guests. There was impromptu singing and some gorgeous images against the Dubai sunset. For Fawad’s many fans it was particularly exciting since the actor is usually very reticent on social media with very few images of him filtering out.
40’s certainly looking good for Fawad – and so is 2022, when some of his movies are scheduled to release and he is going to be seen in a much-awaited TV series on OTT platform Zee5, opposite his ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ co-star Sanam Saeed! I am already cheering for our hero.
‘Top Trender’ Award – Khuda aur Mohabbat 3
The title track of Khuda aur Mohabbat 3, sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, still resonates in the head and has already become a crowd favorite in Rahat’s live performances. It was just that kind of song – and Khuda aur Mohabbat 3 was just that kind of drama.
Helmed by 7th Sky Entertainment with Syed Wajahat Hussain as the producer, the drama traversed wide landscapes across the country, narrating a story with characters that were larger than life and with an attention to detail that was veritably cinematic. The ensemble cast performed well, with Feroze Khan and Iqra Aziz in the lead, and it was a beautifully told story – until the sobbier parts began to go on endlessly. Those could have been edited out, certainly.
The YouTube ratings climbed sky-high episode after episode, which makes Khuda aur Mohabbat 3 definitely one of this year’s top trending, most-watched dramas.
Fashion Spectacular! Award – Kamiar Rokni
Celebrating 20 years of his designing career, Kamiar Rokni rolled out a solo show that was a welcome throwback to what Pakistani fashion used to be like: creative, original, with a distinctive design signature.
Patterns ran in vivacious colors on Kami’s palette, motifs were crafted with an eye for the fine arts and silhouettes merged wearability with avant-garde innovations. Commercially viable but cutting edge design is now rare in the Pakistani fashion diaspora which, in general, remains enveloped in a cloud of pastel-colored bling. Thank heavens for Kami, then, who showed the world how it’s done. Let’s hope that the rest of the fashion milieu was taking notes.
‘Wish All Dramas Were Like This’ Award – Raqeeb Se
Raqeeb Se’s story flowed like poetry, layered with nuances, emotions, twists and turns that couldn’t be predicted. It was the sort of drama that drew you in and riveted you with the little intricacies that formed its plot. Nothing less could be expected from a drama that had some of the TV industry’s very best in its credentials: writer Bee Gul, director Kashif Nisar and actors Naumaan Ijaz, Saania Saeed, Iqra Aziz, Faryal Mehmood and Hadiqa Kiani in an extremely impactful debut.
It was a classic, to be savored and then, watched again and again – and it made you wish that all dramas were made like that.
International Collaborations Couldn’t get Classier Award – Faraz Manan
Faraz Manan does not need fancy parties or drumrolls to declare his designing clout. The fanfare simply filters out on social media making a decisive, reverberating statement.
2021 started off with a Faraz Manan design on the cover of the spring edition of Harper’s Bazaar Qatar accessorized with Chanel jewelry. Then, towards the tail-end of this year, Bollywood A-listers made a beeline for the designer. Deepika Padukone wore a luxe Faraz Manan sari while Alia Bhatt opted for an embellished cape and flared pants.
There have been, of course, many other times when local ateliers have been endorsed by international stars but Faraz’s collaborative efforts have a certain panache about them. There was a time long, long ago when Kareena Kapoor would be taken on board to model Faraz’s eponymous lawn line. It was a concept that had enthralled local textile magnates and it had quickly gotten old with every major brand choosing to ‘push the envelope’ by opting for a brand ambassador from Bollywood. Faraz moved on and now, the celebrity endorsements are fewer but perhaps even more impactful – a handful of images uploaded by the star or her stylist, tagging Faraz, making waves all on their own without the help of any paid social media advertising.
I can sense the Pakistani design fraternity once again beginning to take notes and come up with similar collaborations. By then, I think – and hope – Faraz would have moved on to the next big idea.
Actor Extraordinaire Award – Yumna Zaidi
It is a treat to see Yumna Zaidi act. She loses herself in a role, slipping completely into character, her eyes wide, her face drifting through a wealth of emotions.
She won two Lux Style Awards for Best Actress, in both the popular and critics’ categories for her drama Pyar ke Sadqay, affirming that last year was her year. So was this year. Yumna was riveting in the haunting, heartbreaking Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahin. She has also been holding her own as the righteous young girl in Ishq-e-Laa and as the aspiring cadet upending her family’s set norms in Sinf-e-Aaahan. As RJ Annie in Parizaad, she has brilliantly portrayed the emotions and hopes of a girl who cannot see.
She is an acting powerhouse and her name in a project’s credentials adds clout to it, assuring the audience that this will be a story worth seeing.
‘This is how you party’ Award – HSY
No one draws clout quite as easily as HSY. It is a talent that is innate to him and he proved this again and again, all through 2021. There was the swinging soiree back in February in celebration of the opening of his shiny new store. Lahore promptly yelled ‘Covid begone!’ put on its party shoes and headed off to Shero’s (risky, yes, but that’s how the party scene tends to swing in a world that is exhausted by the pandemic).
I remember Shero telling me at the time that the party had started off small but then just kept mushrooming until all of Lahore’s most illustrious were part of the guest list.
Rivalling this shindig was HSY’s birthday celebration later this year, in October. The dress code for the ‘Shero’s Mastt Mahol Birthday’ was desi – ‘Think Devdas’ said the invite – and how the sequins and saris shimmered on the dance floor. Hit numbers from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s played out, the chandeliers glittered and an announcement was made that the designer would be diversifying towards a luxury event company that would be creating bespoke experiences for clients. The announcement made sense – Shero’s always known how to entertain and spread cheer and event management is likely to be very much up his alley.
The best sort of party, however, thrown by the designer was on the roads of Karachi where he, as brand ambassador of charitable organization NOWPDP, organized a Tuk Tuk March. NOWPDP is a non-profit organization that works towards providing opportunities that allow people with disabilities to become economically empowered. The Tuk Tuk March inaugurated a fleet of rickshaws that could be operated by people who could not walk and riding the rickshaws with the NOWPDP drivers were a slew of A-list celebrities invited by Shero. Humayun Saeed sat in one rickshaw, Mahira Khan in another. There was Feroze Khan, Wasim Akram, Ayesha Omar, Sanam Saeed, Maya Ali and Bilal Ashraf, all sitting in their rickshaws, blowing whistles, with dhols playing in the backdrop.
It was a star-studded party – on the roads of Karachi – organized for a very special purpose.
There are other reasons why 2021 has been special for HSY, particularly his well-received acting debut in the drama ‘Pehli Si Muhabbat’ – but the parties he’s thrown and the joy that he has inspired have to be mentioned in particular.
Grooviest! Award – Naseebo Lal
“I had never thought that I would get the opportunity to sing an anthem for Pakistan,” Naseebo Lal had broken into tears following the release of this year’s PSL anthem ‘Groove Mera’. The song, composed by Xulfi and Adnan Dhool, was sung by Naseebo as well as Young Stunners and Aima Baig and – as is the case with PSL anthems – received mixed reactions.
Naseebo Lal was particularly in the spotlight in the song and with her vivacious energy and very distinctive vocals, she proved that while haters gonna hate, she could totally be this year’s absolute ‘grooviest’.
Overnight Sensation Award – Dananeer
‘Pawry Ho Rahi Hai!’ declared a young girl from Islamabad called Dananeer and proceeded to become an all-out sensation. The little video was cute and quite silly but suddenly everyone, from local celebrities to Bollywood stars wanted to make similar quips about their ‘pawries’. Indian composer – and social media sensation – Yashraj Mukhate made a little medley based on Dananeer’s ‘pawry’ and actresses Mahira Khan, Momal Sheikh and their friends grooved to it in a funky dance video.
Simultaneously, Dananeer’s social media following quadrupled in days. She was an overnight sensation. What is appreciable, though, is how the young girl has immediately thought ahead and launched headlong into an acting career. Many had dismissed Dananeer to be a one-time wonder but she has proven her critics wrong by taking on a role in the currently-airing multi-starrer drama Sinf-e-Aahan. She may have hitherto been just the ‘pawry’ girl but now she’s spreading cheer with the role of a befuddled, nervous young cadet.
Paving its own ‘Rastah’ Award – Rastah
Fledglign fashion brand Rastah has quickly come into focus by virtue of its very edgy ethos. A Rastah jacket is an absolute statement piece, enhanced by color, pattern, print and a certain je na sais quoi that declares it as high fashion.
Merely three odd years old, the brand has been featured in Forbes and Vogue and worn by the likes of Riz Ahmed and a slew of Pakistani celebrities. Then again, celebrities dabble with designer-wear all the time. It is only the truly unique, bona fide design that stands out.
Absolutely Rollicking! Award – Ali Gul Pir
The pandemic had its inevitable benefits – such as the fact that it prompted Ali Gul Pir, isolated at home, to start creating little videos where he re-enacted popular videos that he discovered in social media. Ali’s videos began surfacing last year and he continued to release them all through 2021 – from playing a drunk girl at a party to a British desi woman presenting her take on Pakistan’s ‘mehengai’ to his infamous take on Nida Yasir’s Formula One queries, Ali’s Twitter page is the best thing on the Internet.
Making the Marvel red carpet ‘Marvelous’ Award – Umar Sayeed
Actor Kumail Nanjiana, making his Marvel movie debut in The Eternals wanted to wear a Pakistani designer on the red carpet. He chose well when he opted for Umar Sayeed.
The deep purple and gold sherwani had a traditional paisley pattern and was worked with hand-embroidery on the front and back. With his gimlet eye for details and dedication to handcrafted design, Umar Sayeed doesn’t really need a Hollywood celebrity endorsement to emphasize upon his design prowess. It was still, nevertheless, a proud moment for Pakistani fashion.
Pakistan’s Best Loved Award – Imran Ashraf Awan
Actor Imran Ashraf Awan is undoubtedly very well-loved. Some years ago, he would be called ‘Bhola’ wherever he went and this year, he proved his popularity yet again by becoming Pakistan’s ‘Moosa’. Imran’s drama Raqs-e-Bismil consistently trended on Twitter, with the last episode particularly making headlines – the drama continued to trend more than 24 hours after the last episode had aired, even reaching a lofty #1, with other related hashtags also being in the offing including #ImranAshraf, #SarahKhan, #Moosa and #Zohra.
The drama’s director Wajahat Rauf observed to me at one point that they had had no budget set aside for PR and yet, the drama had been watched extensively. At a time when huge budgets are invested for merely trending on Twitter for a few hours, Imran Ashraf’s very organic popularity was an eye-opener. Building his career, bit by bit, moving from impactful side roles to taking center stage as hero, he is now at a unique place where his audience considers him as one of their own and loves him wholeheartedly.
So, So Witty! Award – Tabish Hashmi
Social media is rife with talk shows galore but the colossal success of Nashpati Prime’s To Be Honest show is testament to host Tabish Hashmi’s wit. The show is now in its third season and the celebrity guests have just gotten better and better. The jokes have also continued full-throttle – the best ones being the ones that Tabish improvises, right on the spot.
Foot in Mouth! Award – Ali Azmat
Ali Azmat proved that he was better off singing when he came on an interview and made cynical remarks about the late Madam Nur Jehan, including calling her a ‘kofta’. Social media was aghast and the legendary singer’s family was insulted. How could one of Pakistan’s greatest singers be dismissed in such a crass way? How could a deceased star get insulted like that? Even Ali Azmat’s many, many fans felt disillusioned. The Junoon front-man is a musical icon but that does not give him carte blanche to make rude declarations.
What was Ali thinking? Perhaps, he wasn’t thinking. Ali duly apologized on social media but perhaps it would be a good idea for him to stay away from live interviews hereon.
Serving out Goosebumps! Award – Gohar Rasheed
Gohar Rasheed’s face contorted and his eyes went wild as he mumbled ‘To be or not to be’ to himself. The drama Laapata may have had its flaws – bad editing towards the end being the most glaring one – but it will always be remembered for the performance delivered by Gohar Rasheed in one episode where his murderous split personality is revealed.
Jealous bipolar husbands are quite common in Pakistani dramas but Gohar, being the way he is, added a few extra ounces of insanity to his role. An unforgettable performance that gave you goosebumps – and while one generally cheers when villains in a story die, this was one evil husband that I was sad to see go.
Naagins be turning in their Graves Award – Aamir Liaquat
Cocking his hands over his head, grinning widely, Aamir Liaquat decided to launch into a lurid ‘naagin’ dance during his show which was airing in the evening during Ramzan. His guests for the night, Aijazz Aslam and Nadia Khan, smiled silently, possibly quaking inside knowing the social media controversy that was bound to let loose.
In a later episode, Aamir referred to his dance, evidently quite happy by the way it had trended on social media and inspired countless memes. Whatever works, I suppose – as long as it gets talked about. How sad.
It’s a sad times for Naagins, to at one time be enacted by the likes of Bollywood sirens like Sri Devi and Hema Malini to plummet to a lascivious dance a la Aamir Liaquat Hussain today.
Pushing Boundaries Award – Mahira Khan
2021 can be considered the year when Mahira Khan truly moved out of her mold, stepping away from conventionally beautiful roles to grittier, nuanced territory. Wiping away the makeup and setting aside the designer-wear, she became a depressed housewife in the harrowing Prince Charming, an ambitious general in Aik Hai Nigar and the complex, disoriented Mehreen in Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay.
There have been so many other times – other years – when Mahira has been in the news. Some may consider her Bollywood movie opposite Shahrukh Khan to be her biggest coup. There have also been other times when Mahira has ventured towards non-glamorous, realistic stories. This year, though, the experiments were far more frequent.
Time and again, Mahira chose to play with her craft and take on a range of challenges. More of the same, please, Mahira Khan, come 2022!
Making Sherry ke Jootay Very Famous Award – Sadaf Kanwal
We’ve all talked about – or joked about – actor Shahroz Sabzwari’s shoes at least once, thanks to his wife Sadaf Kanwal’s fixation with them. Coming live on a talk show with Shahroz, Sadaf professed that it was part of her wifely duties to know where Sherry’s shoes were, among other things. She then proceeded to negate feminism, further adding that as a wife she needed to know more about Sherry than he did about her.
Voila, Sadaf proceeded to become Pakistan’s favorite bahu, a paragon of how womankind needed to be as opposed to the ‘crazy ones’ that had a penchant for Aurat March. But while she may have trended on Twitter and won public approval, and while the way Sadaf chooses to lead her marital life is her personal decision, she needed to be aware that she was a public figure speaking on a public platform. Or was she aware of it and decided to make her little speech anyway?
By putting forward notions that encouraged misogyny, she did her gender a disservice.
She did also offer comic relief, though. Sherry ke Jootay continue to be a hilarious notion.
Prince Charming turns Director Award – Sheheryar Munawar
Sheheryar Munawar may have long been regarded as a blue-eyed romantic hero but this year, he added the label of director to his credentials and came up with a short, impactful little film called ‘Prince Charming’. Using light and shadow, nuance, poetry and music, Sheheryar told a story about post-marital depression in a succinct 12 minute narration that remains memorable.
He may have earlier personified the quintessential ‘Prince Charming’ but Sheheryar may just prove to be a storyteller who likes to think out of the box.
Knowing the Formula to Formula One Award – Nida Yasir
She may be Pakistan’s longest standing morning show host with a loyal audience but Nida Yasir certainly hadn’t bothered to Google when she conducted an interview regarding the Formula One races some years ago. As is the case with social media, the interview came back to haunt Nida this year with the clip going viral and Ali Gul Pir creating a hilarious skit on it.
The memes came in droves and the quips still continue – and I am guessing that Nida Yasir now makes sure that she does her research before she goes live on TV. Good for her and good for the audience that watches her on TV every morning.
Despite the incessant memes and social media bashing, Nida was a good sport throughout, laughing off the episode, inviting Ali Gul Pir to her show and quipping that she had done the country a service and now, every woman knows what Formula One is.
Most Outstanding Performance – Ahmed Ali Akbar
Stuttering, walking slowly, his head ducked down, Ahmed Ali Akbar transitioned miraculously into Parizaad. The actor’s performance is outstanding, doing justice to a story which is very well-constructed, highlighting a range of issues, with dialogues that hit at the heart. It’s the sort of drama that is irrevocably a career highlight for every actor – but not every actor could have personified the straight-thinking, long-suffering Parizaad quite as impeccably. Ahmed Ali Akbar does so, so well.
Comic Masterpiece Award – Chupke Chupke
It isn’t easy to create a comic drama that has to run on for 30 consecutive episodes. Nor is it easy to handle an ensemble cast consisting of industry veterans, hit young actors and debutantes. However, Danish Nawaz did so ingeniously in Chupke Chupke, the romantic comedy that aired on the HUM TV Network and ruled TV all through the month of Ramzan.
The script by Saima Akram Chaudhry was hilarious and the cast worked exceptionally hard, creating characters that were truly hilarious and remain memorable. Danish Nawaz, above all, narrated the story at an entertaining pace and proved his mettle at comic direction. It’s the sort of drama that needs to be watched again and again – an absolute ‘Comic Masterpiece’!