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The Legend of Maula Jatt ★★★★



Director: Bilal Lashari

Cast: Shafqat Cheema, Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Ali Azmat, Faris Shafi, Gohar Rasheed, Humaima Malik, Hamza Ali Abbasi

Release: October 13 2022 (UK)

I once came across two employees of a big supermarket excitedly chatting about film they had seen the night before. It was a subtitled film, and each said they had never thought they would go to the cinema to see a ‘foreign’ film. But they had both loved it. The film was Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was a huge worldwide box office hit and won best international film at the Academy Awards 2000.

The Legend of Maula Jatt is unlikely to replicate that level of international success. But if you’re looking to broaden your film horizons, I heartily recommend this Pakistani epic. It’s currently on general release and doing great business within its target market of the South Asian diaspora. The film is a rollicking good watch and deserves a crossover audience. If it puts Pakistani cinema on the map with even a smallish western audience, it will be a trailblazer. 

The Legend of Maula Jatt is not art cinema. It’s not like the Iranian films embraced by European and US festivals. It’s an unapologetic, full-blooded, subtle as a juggernaut, gory, blood-ridden, moustache twirling villains, Game of Thrones-style action blockbuster. With nods to GladiatorBraveheart and Bollywood epic Sholay which, in turn, was inspired by Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Maula Jatt is unashamedly a ‘get them cheering in the aisles’ crowd pleaser. 

The Legend of Maula Jatt Movie

The characters are broadly drawn, but each has their backstory, making them credible enough to root for. Like the most memorable action films, however, it also has their softer moments. There are themes of mother/son relationships, the challenges of bringing up a traumatised non-biological child, female infanticide, sibling loyalty and a central romance, with a dreamy, up-in-the-stars sequence reminiscent of Aladdin’s Whole New World scene.

By Pakistani film standards, The Legend of Maula Jatt was an expensive and risky project. It was a sort of remake of a cult classic called Maula Jatt, which had been very successful. The Legend of MJ was made five years ago but has languished unseen until now due to legal issues raised by the filmmakers involved with the 1979 film over intellectual property. There are still ongoing issues with distribution within Pakistan itself, and the film has not yet had a complete nationwide release. But it’s doing great business, nevertheless, even with a limited release (queues around the block wherever it’s showing). As of last weekend, it’s also firing up cinemagoers worldwide.

The US, Canada, Dubai, countries across Europe, and the UK are leading the ticket rush. The film is already the highest-grossing Pakistani film ever worldwide, and it’s only been out for a couple of weeks. As the word spreads, expect it to be in your local cinema for a while. Check it out. Put aside any preconceived ideas about south Asian cinema, go with the flow, and you’ll come out smiling! (For the record, it’s not the usual song and dance musical so beloved of cinema in this part of the world). 

The Legend of Maula Jatt

The story 

A young boy from a noble family sees his parents slaughtered by a rival feudal family. The boy is Maula Jatt. With the help of a local elder, he is adopted by a peasant woman living in a neighbouring village who brings him up as her own, tending to his needs, sometimes even at the expense of her biological son.

Fast forward 25 years – Maula (Fawad Khan), a strong, silent type with a penchant for wine, makes a living fighting in gladiatorial spectacles to entertain a baying crowd. Maula is plagued by frequent flashbacks of carnage he doesn’t understand and which his adoptive mother refuses to explain to him because she fears his response. Her fears are well founded because when Maula does discover his history from another source, it sets him off on a path of revenge against the Natt family who killed his parents.

The Natt clan is a riot of villainy, with three siblings waiting to be taken on in a good fight. Number 1 brother and the meanest of them all is  Noori (Hamza Ali Abbasi), a wild beast of a man who, like Maula himself, boasts a spectacular head of hair and extravagant facial fuzz. Noori lives in prison because it’s the only place he can find anyone violent enough and worthy of challenging him. Abbasi is undeniably the stand-out male star of the film. A more handsome Jason Mamoa type, dripping aggressive charisma, he plays Noori with such venomous relish that, as the film builds to the inevitable clash between Noori and Maula, it becomes hard to know who to root for. 

The Legend of Maula Jatt Movie Review

His younger brother Maakha (Gohar Rasheed) is given to snorting drugs, sitting precariously on the ledge of his palace, kidnapping nubile young maidens and randomly killing anyone who tries to thwart him. Rasheed doesn’t just joyfully chew the scenery in his role; he bites off chunks and spits them out. The brothers are more than matched in their cruelty by their chillingly ruthless sister Daro (Humaima Malick). Daro, an icy, scheming Lady Macbeth sort, is entrancingly played by the beautiful Malick, who, after this film, indeed should be fending off offers from a Hollywood that has taken on less talented Bollywood actresses. Malick leads an impressive cast of well-written strong female characters who, unlike in some Hollywood blockbusters, are given personalities beyond just an empty strength.

Maula’s love interest Mukkho (Mahira Khan), is spirited, feisty and given to demanding passion from her beloved when she needs it. She’s an enticingly punky, independent character with a soft centre that melts for Maula. In the titular role, Fawad Khan treads a difficult line as the hero faces an adversary whose showy, volatile magnetism could overpower his more contained presence on screen. He handles the delicate balance exceptionally well. His Maula is flawed (he drinks too much, is vengeful and doesn’t appreciate what he has) but is credibly heroic when needed without being saintly. 

The film is a triumph due to its vision to modernise an old legend and make it cool for a new, worldwide audience. Away from the characters and lively dialogue, the film’s cinematography is stunning, the sumptuous sets create a natural feeling of place, and the action is handsomely choreographed. Overall, The Legend of Maula Jatt belongs to director Bilal Lashari. He also wrote the script, produced the movie and is its cinematographer. He, the cast, the crew and the film deserves all the success and accolades. 

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