190513 Fawad Khan in ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’.
Fawad Khan in ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’. Image Credit: Supplied

We might just finally see the end of the controversy surrounding ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’, director Bilal Lashari’s magnum opus that has made headlines ever since it was announced in 2014. While the unprecedented buzz has been due primarily to its ensemble cast — Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi and Humaima Malick — as well as the fact that the movie purports to having a fresh (read contemporary) take on the cult screen characters of Maula Jatt and Noori Natt, the hero and the anti-hero, there have been other issues plaguing ‘Maula Jatt’ from day one.

For one thing, Lashari and his producer Ammara Hikmat have been embroiled in a constant tussle with the makers of Maula Jatt, the 1979 Punjabi blockbuster which is credited with popularising the abovementioned two characters in a big way. Even though Maula, the blade-wielding, dhoti-kurta-wearing angry young villager who could kill for the good of humanity, had been introduced earlier in an Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi short story, titled ‘Gandasa,’ and adapted for screen at least once before by (the then emerging) scriptwriter Nasir Adeeb, it wasn’t until Maula Jatt that the theme and characters of the film gained great prominence. Decades later, when Lashari began work on the Maula Jatt reboot, with the biggest stars of the time and on an unheard-of budget, it got everyone even remotely associated with the original interested. It was as if they all wanted a share in the pie.

Enter Sarwar Bhatti, the producer of the 1979 classic, who staked a claim on the intellectual copyrights of the characters, dialogues and story etc. Lashari and Hikmat made it clear that The Legend… wasn’t a remake, so there was no question of copyrights’ infringement. It turned into an ugly legal battle, as Bhatti moved court. In October 2017, he got a stay order, which was soon vacated.

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Director Bilal Lashari and producer Ammara Hikmat. Image Credit: Supplied

To their advantage, Lashari and Hikmat had already roped in Adeeb to pen their film’s dialogues. This helped them to defend picking up the most famous line from the original, “Maulay nu maula na maare teh maula nai mar da.”

In a chat with Gulf News Tabloid, Hikmat had stated that the “literary rights [of ‘Maula Jatt’] are with Adeeb, and not Bhatti who only owns the film’s cinematographic rights.”

She also alleged that Bhatti “is now demanding a 50 percent cut in the film’s profits” as well as the right to distribute the film through his [Bahoo Films] company. Later, she also sent a Rs500 million legal notice to Bhatti’s sons — Mohammad Bahoo Sarwar and Muttaqi Sarwar —for running a smear campaign on social media.

Last week, things got murkier as Bhatti was accused of not being the sole owner of Bahoo Films Corporation, by Advocate Almas Jovindah who was speaking on behalf of Saim Jamil, the son of (late) Chaudhry Jamil. In a press conference, Jovindah made the shocking revelation that Bahu Films Corporation was “enrolled under an association deed between six parties out of which Chaudhry Jamil and Sarwar Bhatti were the principle speculators.”

He also presented legal documents on the occasion that included the original partnership deed signed in 1978 under which all films that were produced under the banner were the owner of the corporation and did not belong to any single individual, as fraudulently portrayed by Sarwar Bhatti.

In the latest development, the Sindh High Court has issued a stay order against Bhatti and his sons, “restraining them from defaming The Legend of Maula Jatt and its makers, Bilal Lashari and Ammara Hikmat.”

This is another win for the makers. Meanwhile, the film which was supposed to release on Eid Al Fitr, has been pushed to an unspecified date.