Students of media and film studies may have come across the term Nigar Awards, but the majority of the younger generation is not familiar with the fact that during the boom of Lollywood in the 1950s and 60s, Pakistan had its own awards to recognise the very best in the film fraternity. Back when films like Benhur (1959) were awarded 11 Academy Awards, Pakistani films like Chakori and Aina were being recognised by the Nigar Awards for being cinema par excellence.
The Nigar Awards were introduced in 1957 by Ilyas Rashidi, also known as Baba-e-Filmi Sahafat (Pioneer of Film Journalism) in Pakistan. The award was an extension of the Nigar newspaper, which was also founded by Rashidi in 1948 and was Pakistan’s first weekly newspaper dedicated solely to films and Lollywood.
After Rashidi’s demise in 1997, his project continued to flourish under his son, Aslam Ilyas’ surveillance. Aslam, who is also the editor of Nigar newspaper states, “We have been taking out this newspaper every week for the past 63 years. Despite the present state of the film industry and the sad death of my father, I have continued to look after it.”
The newspaper is still contributing persistently to the field of entertainment by highlighting cinematic achievements of Lollywood and by updating the public with celebrity-related news. However, the Nigar Awards have been missing from the Pakistani film scene since 2005. Aslam halted the awards — which were pivotal in bringing stalwarts like Waheed Murad and Nadeem to the fore — because of the depleting state of the Pakistani film industry.
When asked to elaborate on the sudden withdrawal of the Nigar Awards, Aslam states, “Who should I give the award to? Who is competing against whom? If only one out of five films is worth watching, then there is no point of setting up a jury and celebrating the occasion.”
Inspired by the Filmfare awards, the Nigar award was initially presented in nine categories which included Best Film, Best Director, Best Story Writer, Best Music Director, Best Actor (Male), Best Actor (Female), Best Singer (Male), Best Singer (Female) and Best Dialogue Writer. The jury comprised of poets, scholars, film producers and senior actors from all over Pakistan. Additionally, special Nigar Awards were organised for regional language films as well.
“There were separate Nigar Awards for Sindhi, Pashto and Punjabi films and it was considered a major achievement because there were ministers, ambassadors and other dignitaries giving away the awards and not just self-created celebrities,” states Aslam.
Legends like Murad and Shabnam to contemporary icons of Lollywood such as Shaan, Moammar Rana and Reema are proud receivers of Nigar Awards.
Even though the awards were not dependent on government aid and were funded by proceeds from the Nigar newspaper, the government still intervened and replaced the original form of the Nigar Award with a textual representation.
“The original award was a figure of a lady that my father had found in a metal workshop in Saddar,” says Aslam. “However, later in Ziaul Haq’s era, we had to replace the beautiful lady with a textual representation of the word Nigar. I was upset; I liked the previous one more because it embodied the class one attaches to an award ceremony. The statuette was something the winner would feel proud to receive and take home.”
However, the recent return of Indian films and the reviving cinema culture in Pakistan has given an initiative for young film-makers, directors and actors to come to the forefront and contribute. Cinematic advancements plus a flourishing TV industry seem like a perfect opportunity for the Nigar Awards to make a comeback.
“After a gap of seven years we are planning to bring the awards back. We hope to honour the best of cinema and TV collaboratively under the banner of Nigar,” Aslam beams.
According to Aslam, 40 awards will be given in 2012; 20 each for TV and film with special prizes for achievements accomplished in the last seven years during which Nigar Awards were absent from the industry.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2012.