Pakistan’s most expensive picture yet, The Legend Of Maula Jatt, finally sees the light of day. The Punjabi-language film is a reboot of Yunus Malik’s 1979 cult classic Maula Jatt. Bilal Lashari steps in as the director. His first feature Waar broke box office records in Pakistan and has reimagined the story for international viewers.
The narrative revolves around Sardar Jatt’s son Maula Jatt (Fawad Khan), who is orphaned at quite a young age. Though he gets adopted by a woman who has already a son Mooda (Faris Shafi) but loves Maula more than her own son. But despite that, Maula later transforms into a muscular fighter and an alcoholic. He is adored by everyone, especially his love interest Mukhoo Jattni (Mahira Khan).
Soon though, Jatt comes face-to-face with the Natt siblings: Noori (Hamza Ali Abbasi), Daaro (Humaima Malick) and Maakha (Gohar Rasheed). These are the children of the man who murdered Jatt’s parents. From there, the vengeance-driven action epic commences.
The film jumps straight into action as we are immediately transported to medieval Punjab. (Sarmad Ghafoor’s) engaging background actor captivates the audience with a ballad-like courageous voice narrating. For the next few hours, one is plunged into a world of bloodshed, warfare and stunning cinematography. The poetic exchange of Punjabi one-liners are equally enjoyable.
Lashari transforms the screen into an earthy but picturesque painting where power play and vengeance forms the crux. The Game Of Thrones-esque approach makes this an intriguing ballad. At times, this feels like an international venture especially when one observes the action choreography. These aspects grip audiences and create the classic ‘escapism’ cinema atmosphere. As well as the commercial aspect, there is a mystique, quirky and almost Shakespearean vibe to the movie.
From the costumes to set design of villages and palaces, every aspect of the technical department strikes gold with enriching the visual aesthetic. In tandem, Maula Jatt highlights some subtle themes including mental health, alcoholism and loss of innocence. The camera encapsulates landscapes alongside human emotions, surroundings play additional characters. Maula’s axe too is presented as a warrior-like figure – the second-hero and symbol of strength.
Fawad Khan is a sheer treat to watch. He switches between the gentle lover to ‘angry young man’ effortlessly. His screen presence packs gravitas and portrays a hero very competently. Hamza Ali Abbasi is effortless charismatic yet detestable. His eyes and deep voice are soul-piercing. Khan and Abbasi’s face-off is gold. Gohar Rasheed is his usual best as the pantomiming villain, though the tone goes slightly overboard at times.
In a film where most villains are male, the female counterparts are strong in their individual ways. Mahira, despite cast as a love interest is not just a damsel in distress but a strength for the male lead. Though it would’ve been nice to see her execute a few action scenes. Nonetheless, both the Khans’ chemistry is gorgeous to watch. I also love the fact that the romance is not dragged or drowned in lengthy songs.
Humaima Malick is dynamite as the ruthless Daro. In a patriarchal family, she stands her ground firmly in exercising power and dignity. She is outstanding to watch. Lashari tactfully avoids making this into a display of toxic masculinity.
Where the film falters slightly is during its first half. After a thunderous start, the pace gets significantly slow and fluctuates until the interval point. Post that, (thankfully) the second half gains fast momentum and more action-packed. Though a tighter screenplay could’ve elevated the movie.
Flaws in this film are very few, but the impact The Legend Of Maula Jatt holds is magnanimous. It comes at an opportune time in South-Asian cinema is celebrating epic potboilers like RRR and Brahmastra. Furthermore, it’s a distinct product to emerge from Pakistani cinema. The wait has been worth it for this one!