We went as a big group of friends right around the time when Maula Jatt hit the cinemas. I had prepped myself a little by watching some parts of the original 1979 box office hit which ran for four years straight.
The original Maula Jatt starts with a kind of religious sermon to contextualize the movie; it talks about there being the two proverbial conflicting forces of good and evil forever in a tussle.
The latest version, The Legend of Maula Jatt starts with a sudden leap into an extremely brutal and bloody murder of Maula’s parents and contextualizes Maula‘s quest for justice and for standing up for the oppressed.
The original movie, which I had the chance of watching later, in greater detail depicts rural Punjab quite accurately. The mitti ke ghar (dirt houses), the bael gari (bullock cart), the thatched roofs, the steel katoray (bowls) for drinking milk, the chatais covering the doorways. The only thing that was not accurately depicted in the original movie were the horribly tight dresses of the ladies.
The Legend of Maula Jatt produced by Bilal Lashari, like his movie WAAR, has a surreal touch, and there is no problem with that. But to pass off Turkish looking architecture as beautiful rural Punjab was not very palatable.
A jacuzzi in the middle of Punjab and off-shoulder, boat-necked costumes of Daaro, Noori Natt’s sister, definitely required suspension of disbelief. To add insult to injury there were elaborate basements with medieval kinds of lights, long wooden tables and dinnerware which did not look from Punjab at all.
The violence in the movie was not just taken a notch above, it was taken to the next level, very gruesome, very gory and very Ertugrul. On the other hand, the original movie had very little blood, literally just a bloody nose here and a bruised body there. Fist fights and fighting with good old dandas (sticks). The gandasa comes out only at the end of the first half. But in The Legend of Maula Jatt, even women, and of all people a young bo,y is shown killing with a lot of pride. There is not a single beheading in the original movie.
As far as the gender audit goes original Maula Jatt starts with Noori’s brother chasing a girl to play havoc with her honour, otherwise the women in the older version were all shown empowered and quite safe. Unfortunately 40 years later, the scene (of a village bar, very strange) where the cafe owner’s daughter is threatened by a group of young men was not very palatable either.
I thought a lot about why Maula Jatt, the original movie, was such a big hit though quite badly produced it gave the public a few hours of fantasy where a hero can provide vigilante justice. In a country living under a brutal and harsh martial law and totalitarianism that is perfectly understandable.
But I am truly bemused at the reception of The Legend of Maula Jatt the world over. The raving reviews of the fans as ‘the best movie ever’. I too enjoyed the cinematography and the pithy, often humorous dialogues, the brilliant acting of both Fawad Khan and Hamza Ali Abbasi, but I am still thinking about how the movie became such a big hit.
One thing is for sure, glitz, glamour and lots and lots of gory violence sells. The audience wants something slick, fast paced, surreal, fancy. As I went to get popcorn during the interval, a girl swooned “it’s so amazing it’s just like the Game of Thrones,” and I realized that that was exactly what was bothering me. The shooting of the film in a not-so-original fashion, the aping of popular shows from other parts of the world. Instead of showing the traditional akhara, a Roman style stadium. It is here we compromise our uniqueness, identity and who we are.