Pakistani movie The Legend of Maula Jatt sets a new standard

Days before its October 13 worldwide release, the owner of IMGC Cinemas in the Pakistani town of Buriwala was working around the clock to prepare his new theater for the much-anticipated drama, The Legend of Maula Jatt.

“This movie makes history,” Sheikh Amjad Rashid said, adding that he wanted to be a part of that history.

The Legend of Maula Jatt, written and directed by Bilal Lashari, is Pakistan’s most expensive film ever, and its most ambitious.

It is also a remake of a highly masculine Punjabi movie that changed the tide of the industry 43 years ago, and the Pakistani film industry hopes to revive it through this film.

“There are films that do better than others, and then there are films that make an entire industry perform better. Amara Hekmat, the film’s producer, told Al Jazeera.

“I think it will change the way investors look at Pakistani films, and I hope filmmakers will stop playing it safe after that.”

The film reportedly cost an unprecedented $4.6 million in a country where the largest film budgets were less than $1.5 million. He earned $2.3 million worldwide in its opening weekend.

Punjabi Gandasa

The Legend of Maula Jatt is based on the 1979 movie “Maula Jatt” only. The story revolves around family feuds, a tormented hero, a devastatingly handsome villain, revenge and honor.

Her titular character is a Punjabi farmer holding a gundasa in a world where mustachioed men on their horses use axes and guns to terrorize others and defend themselves. The original film was banned by Zia-ul-Haq’s government due to “violence and subversive culture”, but he returned to screens after a few years and produced a violent and hyper-sexualized Punjabi genre of film known as “Gandasa culture”, which almost flourished. 20 years.

“Many countries have exported a certain style of cinema to the world, be it Western Hollywood or Bollywood with their musicals, samurai films, or kung fu films… ‘Punjabi Gandasa’ is a quintessentially Pakistani genre that I have revisited and reinvented, Look, Lashari told Al Jazeera.

No cost, effort, creative input or marketing strategy has been spared to make a mark in the international markets.

No cost, effort, creative input or marketing strategy has been spared to make a mark in the international markets. [Handout: Geo Films]

The film crew includes some of the country’s biggest stars and most respected actors. In an unprecedented move, it was rolled out to 400 screens in 23 countries other than Pakistan. The production is great, the scale is big, and Gandasa’s action has the heightened drama and finesse of the best of Hollywood.

“Ghandasa was and still is a weapon against injustice, a symbol of honor,” Naseer Adib, dialogue writer and screenwriter Naseer Adeeb, who wrote the original “Mulla Jat” and “The Legend of Mola Jat” dialogue, told Al Jazeera.

Mola Jat has become a cultural phenomenon, especially with Adeeb’s dialogue and performance by the actors, and Mustafa Qureshi’s villainous seriousness Nouri Nat.

The legend of Mola Jet
Hamza Abbasi, who plays the main antagonist Nuri Nat, behind the scenes of The Legend of Maula Jatt [Khurram Malik]

Lashari, 38, a writer, director, photographer and editor of The Legend of Maula Jatt, doesn’t remember seeing the original movie growing up but, like most people of his generation in Pakistan, he’s lived with it all his life.

It is an integral part of our popular culture. You hear the film’s dialogues in some dub, on TV, and you see graffiti somewhere, and politicians often throw these odd lines at each other,” he said.

Adeeb remembers former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto using Nuri Nat’s famous sentence: “Nawa Aya Hai, Sonya.” [You must be new here, darling]During an election rally, her husband and former president Asif Ali Zardari said: “Malay no Maula na Marai Thai Maula Nai Marda [Unless Maula kills Maula, Maula can’t die]When asked if he was facing any threats.

‘The scream of terror’

Lashari, whose debut film of 2013, Waar (The Blow), became Pakistan’s highest-grossing film at the time, says it took everything that made the original Maula Jatt a great movie and gave it a “tough reboot”.

He knew what kind of movie he wanted to make, who he would star in and where it would be shown – at an unknown time in a fantasy world he called “Parallel Punjab”.

He dispensed with antiquated notions such as men resolving disagreements by marrying off their sisters, creating archetypes by giving them a compelling background, and intensifying the animosity of Maula Jatt-Noori Natt. He drew detailed sketches of characters and scenes and rewrote the script 80 times.

He knew the effect he wanted his film to have on the audience: “chills.”

The casting of Fouad Khan as Maula Jatt was a chilling move, as was the casting of Mahira Khan as the female lead.

“Everyone has seen this side of Fouad… the chocolate hero, the sweet side of the boy. But I knew there was something inside, you might say, controlled aggression. And in the new world, the alpha concept isn’t necessarily brutal,” Lashari said.

The news that Khan would face off with Hamza Ali Abbasi’s Nuri Nat added to the excitement leading up to his release.

It can be argued that the film derives most of its strength from the Nat family.

Evil has never looked sexier or more exciting. Nuri Nat Al Abbasi is played with a quasi-religious intensity in direct contrast to the Jawhar Rashid camp, a strange depiction of younger brother Nat Mokha.

The Legend of Maula Jatt has a distinct aesthetic, the story unfolds in episodes, each of which introduces a character as the plot moves forward. As the film progresses, the plot thickens, the action intensifies, and the tension increases.

“He’s very Tarantino, but very Sergio Leon. Fouad Khan told Al Jazeera via a Zoom phone call.

Lashari’s rich, detailed imagination and meticulous execution give The Legend of Maula Jatt the heft of a huge film, but creating a fantasy of this magnitude wasn’t easy in a country without world-class studios.

A team had to be sent from the UK to train the actors and choreograph the fights. There has been collaboration with technicians and VFX artists from several countries. A huge collection was set up in Bidian village on the outskirts of Lahore.

‘control yourself’

Most Punjabi films swear by patriarchy where women are relegated to playing hapless victims, tickling patches or weeping mothers. While the human drama of this film is rooted in a similar setting, it has street cred and women who openly express and pursue their desires.

Mahira Khan, one of the highest-paid Pakistani actresses, told Al Jazeera that she was thrilled to play Mukhu in the film, a character who keeps hitting or hitting men and shattering gender stereotypes.

“I used to be like, ‘Oh my God, Mukkho, get a fist,'” she said, “but Mukkho never held it.”

“It’s very rare to find a female character in Pakistani, whether it’s cinema or television, just slapping people, and idiots kneeling in balls, which I thoroughly enjoyed because I’ve never done that in my life.”

Hamima Malik, who plays Darrow, Nuri’s lovable sister, said Lashari told her not to watch the original movie and gave her one nod – Eva Green in 300: Rise of an Empire.

“He wanted Darrow to be sensual, confident, strong, terrifying, sexy, beautiful and dangerous at the same time,” Hemeema told Al Jazeera.

Her Daro lives in a man’s world and in her opening scene, she steps into a council of men at Nutt’s mansion and steals the show in a move reminiscent of O-Ren Ishii’s board meeting in Kill Bill I.

The legend of Mola Jet
The Legend of Maula Jatt is based on the 1979 movie “Maula Jatt” only. [Photo courtesy producers of The Legend of Maula Jatt]

“Anyone who cuts anything in this movie, I’m going to quit”

Every few minutes in The Legend of Maula Jatt, someone threatens or demands that the enemy be cut into pieces the size of a kebab. In other words, violence is figurative.

A large part of Gandasa’s films were all these threats. ‘I will do this to you,’ said Lashari, ‘You this, that…’ So it can’t be all talk and you don’t walk right.

A source associated with the film told Al Jazeera that when they took the film to the censorship board for certification, they liked the film and had given a global certification, and it was given unrestricted public viewing without the need for parental guidance.

But a woman objected, saying: What are you doing? Heads are chopped off and sharp weapons slither through the bodies… How can you? At this point the head of the censorship board threatened: “If anyone cuts anything in this movie, I’ll resign.”

‘I asked them to decorate the cinema halls as a bride’

The Legend of Maula Jatt was scheduled to release in 2020 in conjunction with Eid but before that, the pandemic hit. But the delay did not dampen the excitement around the film.

Nadeem Mandviwala, the distributor in Pakistan, is optimistic about the film. “I asked them (theatre owners) to decorate the cinema halls as a bride,” he says.

At the luxury CUE cinema in Lahore, 6000 tickets were sold out in advance. But some of Pakistan’s largest theater owners are not showing the film due to new commercial terms, including the producers’ revenue share of ticket sales.

However, Mandviwalla is confident that cinemas will appear.

In Gujranwala, Roxy Cinemas held its first show on Friday after being closed for more than three years due to the ban on Bollywood films amid the India-Pakistan hostilities, and the unsustainable paucity of Pakistani films – only 23 in 2019.

Haji Tahir, the owner of Roxy, where he played the 1979 film Maula Jatt for several months, is counting on Lashari’s bold gamble and hopes that Maula Jatt will change the course of the Pakistani film industry once again and cinema will never again subside.

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