Second-time film director Bilal Lashari’s long-awaited revenge saga, 'The Legend of Maula Jatt', featuring top Pakistani actors Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi and Humaima Malik, is a requel (a reboot, but not a re-make) to 1979’s cult Punjabi classic, Maula Jatt.
The fantasy adventure which releases in the UAE cinema and globally today, is touted as the widest theatrical release for a Pakistani movie and has been reportedly made on a massive budget.
The film arrives amidst unprecedented media frenzy and public curiosity much of which pivots around its stellar leads.
This is Mahira and Fawad’s first screen outing since the decade-old television series 'Humsafar' (check out our video); Malik was last seen on the big screen in a Bollywood thriller opposite Emraan Hashmi, and Abbasi who featured in the TV show 'Pyarey Afzal', was missing in action. Together they make a formidable quartet, with enough starry sizzle to set the box office on fire. And when they appear in never-seen-before avatars, in a movie that looks fashionably like an ethnic version of Gladiator, things are bound to gain traction.
But this isn’t the Hollywood blockbuster 'Gladiator', warns Lashari, except for the sports arena that was built as one of the film’s major outdoor sets.
The movie follows the journey of Maula, a dashing but deadly prizefighter (played by a beefed-up Fawad Khan) with a traumatic childhood whose sole ambition in life is to avenge his parents’ murders committed by the devilish Noori Natt (Abbasi), the warlord of the rival clan.
The main idea is inspired by 1979 cult Punjabi blockbuster, Maula Jatt, which immortalised Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi in the roles of Maula Jatt and Noori Natt respectively. But Lashari tells Gulf News that his film is “not a remake.” It re-imagines the rural Punjab (in the original movie) as “a fantasy Punjab… in a pre-industrial, pre-colonial era, where there’s no printing press, no gunpowder etc.”
In this “timeless” world, where enemies combat hand to hand, Maula’s favourite weapon is the gandasa, originally a farming tool (axe) which has been refashioned into a shinier and heavier pole weapon with a wide blade at the side and lots of design elements from the region’s ancient art and architecture.
The 1979 movie, and to some extent its prequel, Wehshi Jatt (1975), is credited for introducing gandasa to the Punjabi cinema. As our gandasa-wielding, heavily mustachioed protagonist, sporting an oversize kurta and dhoti, roared and raged in anger, the audience, mostly men from lower strata of society, seated inside the cinema halls, would cheer him on excitedly.
Lashari classifies these movies as the “gandasa genre,” and says that he wanted to “not just reboot Maula Jatt, but to primarily reinvent the genre which had great potential to evolve but sadly it wasn’t allowed to.”
The director, who is also the scriptwriter, cinematographer, and editor on the film, has all the tools at hand to treat the audiences to a spectacular display of Medieval-age-style warfare, complete with stylishly choreographed action sequences, thanks to an international team of experts who were flown in especially for the purpose. Expansive sets, elaborately designed costumes, and Dolby Atmos sound are all part of his vision.
'The Legend of Maula Jatt' may come across as a testosterone-charged movie, but Mahira Khan, who plays Maula’s love interest, Mukho, insists that the ladies aren’t there just for eye candy. “In a world and space where everybody is fighting, Mukho provides love, peace, and to a certain degree sense of humour. She is brazen and bindaas; and not the inhibited kind,” she tells Gulf News.
“A lot of her is like me, but then a lot of her is not like me. So, it was a lot of fun playing her.”
When asked as to what was Lashari’s brief to her about Mukho, Khan relates how the director told her to “play myself multiplied by a 100! I was like, ‘But I don’t flirt, and I’ve never approached a guy,’ and Bilal said, ‘Yeah, okay, I just want some masti.’
“To be honest, the dialogues were so much fun.” Though, Punjabi was a “very big challenge,” she admits.
“I did not grow up in Punjab, I was not around people who spoke Punjabi, so the language was completely unknown to me, except for in songs.”
She says she got help from Abbasi and dialogue writer Nasir Adeeb (also the scriptwriter of the original Maula Jatt).
Talking about her look in the film — the crinkled hair, silver jewelry and long kurtas -- Khan says it was designed by producer Ammara Hikmat, costume designer Zara Shahjahan, Lashari, and herself. She is quick to give credit to the hair and makeup artist duo, Maram-Aabroo, who “executed the look of each character impeccably.”
'The Legend Of Maula Jatt' and the hurdles to be crossed:
The film took a long time the making. Generally, this affects the look of the actors who are starring in it. Was this ever a concern for her? Khan replies, “We shot it over a period of a year and a half. And we shot it mostly at a stretch. There was some back-and-forth, and there were times when I thought that my hair colour wasn’t matching, or initially, because I had put on weight for the part, so at places, I am a little motu [plump] and at some places, I am not. But those are minor things.”
For Lashari, the past eight years were full of troubles. Chiefly, he was embroiled in a legal battle over intellectual copyrights with Sarwar Bhatti, the producer of the 1979 movie, for almost two years. They reached an agreement after all, but not without causing the film endless delays. Then the pandemic struck, and the film hit a snag.
Humaima Malik, the film’s other female lead, who plays the fearless and sensuous Daro Nattni, says Lashari’s reference for her character was “Eva Green from 300.” It’s a layered character, and Malik says she enjoyed performing it to the hilt. “Daro has been raised among all-male siblings. She is dangerous and flirtatious.”
In the original Maula Jatt, there’s a brief but interesting encounter between Mukho and Daro. Do we hope to see Mahira and Umaima face off in 'The Legend of Maula Jatt'?
“I wish,” says Mahira. “Actually, there was meant to be one such scene, and we were so excited about that, but Bilal decided against it.”
Hamza Ali Abbasi’s major gripe at the shoot was his getup: “The beard and that massive lot of hair on my head were tough to handle,” he says.
As for the stunts, they felt quite awkward initially to execute those barbaric battle scenes.
“But the action team was there to train Fawad and me. There were certain things that we couldn’t do, such as back flips, for which they had stuntmen and body doubles. You could say that Fawad and I did 30-40 percent, and they [the stuntmen] did about 60 percent,” said Abbasi.
While the challenges were many, their collective faith helped them pull off this incredible feat of creating Pakistan’s own ambitious fantasy adventure that’s their spin of an iconic film.
Don’t Miss It!
‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’ is out in UAE cinemas