Fawad Khan in ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’. Image Credit: Supplied

The first trailer of director Bilal Lashari’s magnum opus, ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’, has had audiences from around the globe going gaga.

While some have compared its VFX to Bollywood’s ‘Baahubali’, others saw influences drawn from ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Game of Thrones’.

Fans of Fawad Khan and Hamza Ali Abbasi lapped up the few glimpses of the actors, both of whom feature in never-before-seen avatars — Khan as the weapon-toting, long-haired messiah of the wretched; and the bearded, raging Abbasi as his nemesis. Mahira Khan and Humaima Malik also seem to have bagged stellar roles.

The movie is set in rural Punjab, just like the fictional tale of Maula Jatt and his arch enemy Noori Natt — originally played by (the late) Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi respectively in 1979’s massive hit, ‘Maula Jatt’.

Lashari’s version started production in 2014, as a retelling of the old Punjabi classic. But soon the director as well as his producer Ammara Hikmat (of Encyclomedia PR) found themselves in the midst of a controversy that continues to dog them.

As the story goes, Sarwar Bhatti, the director of the 1979 film, claimed that he was in possession of the intellectual copyrights for Maula Jatt and, therefore, no one could remake it without involving him. He even moved court in October 2017, despite Hikmat stating repeatedly that ‘The Legend…’ was “not a remake,” and got a stay order, which was soon vacated.

“Bilal [Lashari] had met Sarwar Bhatti once, and told him about his own vision of Maula Jatt. And, to this day, Bhatti believes that we are remaking [the film]. We aren’t,” Hikmat tells Gulf News tabloid!.

“For the record, when Bilal and I got together for the movie he was very clear that he didn’t want to remake [‘Maula Jatt’]. He wasn’t a fan, and only wanted to pick a few dialogues and characters from the original, and weave them into a fresh tale.”

She also declares that the literary rights of Maula Jatt are with veteran scriptwriter Nasir Adeeb and not Bhatti, who only owns the film’s cinematographic copyrights. “That’s why we took Adeeb on board,” Hikmat said.

Adeeb is said to have transferred the literary rights to Hikmat and Lashari. “We now jointly own the rights to produce and do anything with Maula’s character,” Hikmat adds. “Any kind of merchandise on the film or title character comes out anywhere in the world, we boast the rights for that.”

She alleges that Bhatti “wanted an out-of-court settlement but I insisted on fighting it in the court. He has this gross misconception that our film’s budget is something to the tune of Rs100 crores [Rs1 billion, Dh26,3 million], so he openly asked for a 50 per cent cut. We were shocked. Later, he got back to us and said that he’d be OK if we paid him a quarter of the amount — ie Rs25 crores — but also let his company [Bahoo Films] to distribute our film. On top of that, he demanded credit as producer. Now, isn’t that blackmailing?”

Hikmat says that Bhatti’s son has been “running a vicious campaign on social media against us. He believes that we’ve violated the copyrights laws and so [we] must be apprehended. Whereas the IP Tribunal clearly said that it would be termed copyrights infringement only if we got Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi to enact the same scenes [as in the original]; or, if we inserted a clip or clips from that movie, or reproduced its DVDs, or run it on TV or in a theatre.”

Last week, Hikmat sent a Rs500 million legal notice to Bhatti for “spreading defamatory remarks on both print and social media against the release of upcoming movie The Legend of Maula Jatt.”

The film is slated for release on Eid Al Fitr (early June) 2019. Its theatrical trailer is due out in March.