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The eventual success of The Legend of Maula Jatt may be a story on its own`

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The eventual success of The Legend of Maula Jatt may be a story on its own


MOHAMMAD KAMRAN JAWAID

Written and directed by Bilal Lashari, the film features a bevy of superstars in Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Humaima Malik, Gohar Rasheed, Nayyer Ejaz, Shafqat Cheema, Faris Shafi and Ali Azmat.


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“This is The Legend of Maula Jatt we’re talking about! You are bound to go past your deadline,” producer Ammara Hikmat laughs.
Although I laugh too — this was genuinely a good joke once you frame it in the context of the film’s constant delays — the jest doesn’t negate the effects of tension creeping up on you.

To clarify the context, it was nearly 1:30 at night when this joke was cracked and this feature was already one day over the editorial deadline.
To the makers of The Legend of Maula Jatt (TLoMJ) — the chiefs of the ship being Hikmat and writer-director Bilal Lashari — the tensions associated with delays had lost their edge years ago.

TLoMJ had been in production since January 2017, save a shot or two, and the film wrapped up its principal photography sometime in June 2019. By conventional filmmaking standards, this was an extremely long shoot, but still the film would have been ready for release in 2020, if Covid-19 hadn’t shut down the world.

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Call the delays the uninvited hex associated with TLoMJ — though, as far as I’ve understood it, no one seems to mind this superstitious enchantment; or rather, to be precise, everyone seems to have grown accustomed to it. For this, blame Bilal Lashari then, the wunderkind director who broke the box-office once with Waar in 2013, and who has since then been labelled as the maverick maker of too-big-to-fail, high-concept blockbusters in Pakistan.

Ammara tells me about the out-of-control instances that kept adding to the delays in production. Take, for example, the chief of the culprits: bad weather. TLoMJ is mostly an outdoors film; few sets were made in studios. This left the crew, which supposedly numbered 500 at times (though it could have been a figurative number) and the huge sets at the mercy and whims of the elements.

Bad weather ruined a big sequence that required every trained horse in the region; then, more bad weather ruined scenes between Fawad Khan and Hamza Ali Abbasi, the two key players in the film, after they spent hours in make-up; and then later still, bad weather delayed a good number of Mahira Khan’s scenes who, I am told, had been shooting several projects at the time, and had scheduled specific dates for production.


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“Mahira became our ‘whether’ girl — as in whether we would be able to shoot anything the day she comes over,” Ammara jests.
When bad weather wasn’t taking the production down, it was something else. At one time, the production had all but lost their international stunt team, she recalls.


The stunt crew, who had flown to Pakistan despite warnings and apprehensions of terrorist threats from their respective embassies, used to frequent a coffee shop before coming on set.

It just so happened that, one day, there was an explosion at the very coffee shop after the crew left. Although the explosion wasn’t terrorist-related — a gas cylinder had blown-up — it was enough to send the stunt crew packing out of Pakistan. It would take months, and a lot of effort, to line them up again, Ammara narrates.

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Things didn’t get any easier. Out of the blue, a court case about copyright infringement would bring unwanted hype to TLoMJ. The producers of the original Sultan Rahi-Mustafa Qureshi starrer Maula Jatt (1979) sued the makers of TLoMJ because, according to them, the rights of the remake weren’t sought by the new film’s production company.

The matter was analysed in detail in Icon [The Jatt’s Latest Stand, January 20, 2019], and a conclusion was reached months later. However, Ammara doesn’t want to get into the details of that today, she says.

“The matter was amicably resolved out-of-court though, after our experience, I think filmmakers started taking issues of intellectual copyright more seriously,” she explains.

Ammara also doesn’t want to talk about the budget of the film. “Let’s just say that TLoMJ is not called the biggest film in Pakistan’s history for no reason,” she declares with utter ambiguity.

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In what has been the most extensive and detailed conversation on the film, Bilal Lashari tells me everything I need to know to understand this film.
The idea of making the film on Maula Jatt came to him during Waar, but he didn’t actually start work on the adaptation until a year later, he says.
“It was an evolutionary process. The initial idea was to do my take on the Punjabi gandasa genre. It was a nice idea to revisit it,” he says. Gandasa films are a cult genre, he explains, and when the films stopped working at the box-office, people blamed this sub-genre for the downfall of the industry.


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“The genre did not evolve with time. [In fact], it hasn’t aged well in any capacity. Take the original Maula Jatt for example. I first saw it when I was very young, and when I revisited it, I felt it had dated. Just remaking the very thing would not have been enough,” Bilal says.

Bilal tells me that he had mixed feelings about the film, but still the allure of the idea was too strong to ignore. He began writing the screenplay in English and, then later, when it came to dialogues, he felt it necessary to borrow key Punjabi dialogues from the film.

“When I began writing the dialogues, that was when my perspective of the original changed,” he says.


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If everyone associated with the film is in awe of Bilal Lashari, Bilal himself is in awe of Nasir Adeeb’s dialogues. It was a no-brainer to have the original writer of Maula Jatt, its prequel Wehshi Jatt, and subsequent entry Maula Jatt In London, be the dialogue writer for TLoMJ.

It was a bumpy relationship at first, Bilal tells me, but then, as drafts continued to evolve (I’ve heard, there are as many as 80 versions of the film), the veteran screenwriter had completely wowed the young filmmaker.

“I was expecting him to come to my wavelength because it was not an option to change the nature of this project,” he asserts, sticking to the grandness of the idea he wanted to pull off.

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“I am a very visual director and, at first, I wanted my characters to have fewer, appropriate moments to speak. However, after Nasir Adeeb wrote the dialogues, I felt I had to embrace all of them,” Bilal says.

Talking about the scope of the production, Bilal tells me that it had to be big in every way, even when you talk about the film’s story. The building blocks are the same but everything — characters, setting, era, tone — had to change. And that it had to be a hit… at least in his own mind.

“It had to be a big departure. Agar ye panga lena hai [If you want to take on the challenge], then you don’t have an option. You have to make a hit film in your mind and work backwards,” he says.

“Your competition is not with the original Maula Jatt but rather the idea of it. The film is a fixture of pop-culture. Over the years, it became too big.” So Bilal had no option but to go bigger.

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“The reality is, if you show Maula Jatt to today’s young audience, they would laugh for five minutes and then turn the film off. My version has to acknowledge and celebrate the original, while being original itself,” he says.

However, originality doesn’t mean overly stylised, Bilal explains as our conversation veers towards the apparent visual perception of the film.
“We’ve seen Punjab in every form, so we took our movie towards a realistic-fantasy side. It had to be reinterpreted and reimagined in a different, pre-industrial period. There are no firearms in the film, nor is there electricity,” he says.

Talking about Mahira Khan, who was away from Pakistan and was not available for this interview, Bilal says that he is personally a fan of hers. “I felt Fawad and Mahira have that hard-to-define screen chemistry.”


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Despite being the leading lady of the film, the role is not that extensive, Bilal reveals. He considers her character a very important supporting role, and that her inclusion adds a bit of emotional cleansing to what is a very grittily toned film.

Bilal considers TLoMJ an ensemble film. The cast includes Humaima Malik, Gohar Rasheed, Nayyer Ejaz, Shafqat Cheema, Faris Shafi and Ali Azmat in key roles that help accentuate the severity of the story.

Given the nature of the story and the screenplay, there are big margins for actors throughout the film, the director adds. “The Natts, for example, are very dramatic and theatrical by design,” he says.

One of the key characters from the Natt clan is Daro, played by Humaima Malik.

In another of the very late-night conversations (it was, again, nearly 1am when we spoke), Humaima told me why it was both difficult and yet easy playing Daro.

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“You get very rare opportunities where you work with directors who give you the liberty and freedom as an actor,” Humaima tells Icon over the phone.

“I found him to be a naimat [blessing]. He never told me how to do my dialogues, or hindered me in the way I performed her,” the actress tells me. “Daro is a sexy, sensuous queen,” Humaima explains. “She walks with regality — like how a queen walks — and talks how a queen talks, with her head held high and her chin up. She is a lone, empowered woman in a clan that is predominantly made up of men.

“Noori has no weakness, except Daro,” Humaima emphasises. “When you realise you’re the apple of your brother’s eye, then you get strength to assert yourself [in dramatic situations].”

The actress draws inspiration for Noori’s and Daro’s relationship from the one she has with Feroze Khan, her real-life brother.

Explaining the Natt clan in detail, Humaima says that every character is a hero in their own world. “The Natt clan has one agenda. The difference is how every character is pushing that agenda.”

According to the actress, the Natt ensemble, and their shenanigans, give the film a unique sense of intrigue that will keep the audience hooked.
Hamza Ali Abbasi, who plays a new version of Noori Natt, couldn’t agree more. “I saw the character evolve from the very beginning, so it was relatively easy for me to get back into who he was, even after prolonged lapses of time,” he explains as we discuss everything from long spells to make-up, to the way he perceives and plays the character.

“Noori is very content. He is content about his own power. Secure about his domain. In fact, he is so secure that what he really wants to do is to feel insecure, feel threatened. He needs a challenge and a challenger.

“Noori is high on power. That’s his only kink. Some are financially corrupt and some are corrupted from power. He is the latter. But he is also very humble about things at times.”

Hamza recalls a few scenes from the original Maula Jatt that tells you that even Mustafa Qureshi’s Noori Natt had intricate layers to him (those who have seen the original can attest to this).

“A legendary actor has made a legendary character,” Hamza says, acknowledging that he learned a lot from Qureshi’s depiction of the character.
I asked whether it was difficult for Hamza to maintain his physicality and performance during the three-year-long shooting spell?

“I already knew this was going to be a long shoot,” he laughs. “[In order to maintain the character and the performance] for me simplicity is the key.”
The actor would keep every aspect about the character — even its shades — into a “singular zone.” The single-minded simplicity would help give him consistency.

“I would not overplay nor underplay Noori, even if that type of performance would be for the betterment of the character,” he adds.

While Hamza did make peace with the long schedule, there was one thing that made him flinch: the make-up. “It was probably the only thing I didn’t look forward to.”

For Fawad Khan, the make-up wasn’t as prolonged, and maintaining the character was simpler still.

“It’s very easy. All I had to do was put on weight,” Fawad laughs. “So, you don’t stop eating junk food.”

“I had to maintain myself at 95kg — and it was a cinch. When you maintain that weight, your walk remains the same, and all your character traits remain intact. The only thing I had to do was not shave, which I didn’t.”

Fawad says that while developing the look of the character he had “come up with some crazy ideas. We have this idea of a prim and proper hero, when heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Since Maula Baksh is a prized fighter, at one point we were going to sew up one of his eyes,” he says.
“You remember Mads Mikkelsen’s character from Valhalla Rising — that was the look I was going for, but then we decided that it would be too much.”

As we talk, Fawad acknowledges the most obvious of questions without missing a beat.

Sultan Rahi’s shoes were pretty big to fill, he says, adding that not knowing how to speak Punjabi made it all the more difficult for him.

“I needed to learn how to speak [Punjabi], to understand the rhythm of [both the film and the character]. I couldn’t understand the original film through and through,” he says, confirming that he only saw important chunks of Maula Jatt.

His version of the character sticks to the traits of the original character but, since the film is both a homage and a departure from the source material, they had the luxury of tweaking Maula Baksh for today’s audience, he says.

“Obviously, because the era is different, we could take the liberty to play with [everything], even the accents, because the film is going to be catering to a very wide audience. For us to stick specifically to certain dialects, certain words and certain areas [of the region] would not be a wise choice,” he says, adding that understandable accents in what would be a general palette of Punjabi was also helpful for him as well.

Although committed to see the film through right till the end, Fawad tells me that he did have doubts about the movie at times.

“We were fighting against the scope of the project. This was purely an outdoor film. No studio floors could accommodate the scale of the production.”


There was also this long pause in filmmaking in Lahore in the last decade. For TLoMJ, the crew had to be retrained, the actor explains.
Surprisingly, of all of Lollywood’s talents, Nasir Adeeb, turns out to be the biggest student of this endeavour.

The acclaimed screenwriter of every Maula Jatt movie made till date, Nasir Adeeb is the Pride of Performance-awarded veteran of the industry. As the dialogue writer of TLoMJ, Nasir Adeeb tells me that he has learned what it takes to write films for today’s generation of filmmakers. “I consider this my first film in this new era,” he tells Icon.

As we talk about his filmography, especially Wehshi Jatt (1975), his first film and the prequel to Maula Jatt, the writer gives out what could very well be a radical piece of information.

“People are under the misconception that Wehshi Jatt is the adaptation of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s Gandasa. Read the novel and then see my film, and then tell me if I am wrong. The only similarity between the two is that they both have a character named Maula Baksh,” he claims.

As a preeminent writer of ‘gandasa’ movies, I ask Nasir Adeeb if the release and success of TLoMJ will help revitalise regional Punjabi cinema.

“I am certain it will. In fact, let me also tell you that, after the global success of TLoMJ, it is highly likely that filmmakers from Karachi will end up producing and directing Punjabi language movies!”


While TLoMJ will likely encourage movement in the production of regional language movies, the chances of it revitalising ‘gandasa’ films is less than likely. But then again, that was never the intention, Bilal tells me.

“I am no one to revive a genre,” he replies. “What I want to do is tell a story my way. It is as simple as that.”

While Bilal may have created a benchmark for Pakistani cinema to follow, where the eventual success of TLoMJ takes the industry will turn out to be its own story.

Originally published in Dawn, ICON, October 2nd, 2022



 
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Bilal Lashari needs to shut the faak up.

Original MJ is superior to this remake film with actors that can’t even speak Punjabi.

The actors in original MJ are legends that didn’t have to rely on cheap gimmicks like special effects to make the film a classic. They were of another caliber.
 
irl or in the movie?
this is the movie's version of Noori nath

Hmm.. so basically old school macho men posturing. I hope they release on some streaming platform in India
 
All my life I thought Mustafa Qureshi was a Punjabi.... I was wrong.
a bunch of mainstream Punjabis artists/poets are not actually Punjabi

- muneer niazi - pakhtun
Rangeela- pakhtun
Mustafa Qureshi - sindhi

plus some others
it always catches me of guard

Hmm.. so basically old school macho men posturing. I hope they release on some streaming platform in India
yes and no- its a little deeper/ "fun" to watch than just random mofos beating the shit outta each other , its not braindead stuff

this recent film is based on mid-evil Punjab and its clan warfare - from what I have heard
The recent one is more historical/period film in nature than the older version

@Paitoo
 
yes and no- its a little deeper/ "fun" to watch than just random mofos beating the shit outta each other , its not braindead stuff

Sure, I am not suggesting it is without substance. I am myself someone who likes this clan/civilisation clash subject in movies. Makes it feel like blood sport.
 
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Of endless laughter and sweet reunions: 'The Legend of Maula Jatt' cast talks about magnum opus​


A Karachi café lit up with the who’s who of the Pakistani entertainment industry coming together under one roof

Rida Lodhi
October 08, 2022

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KARACHI: “He’s lying!” I overhear Hamza Ali Abbasi’s thunderous laughter from behind as the actor takes a jibe at Bilal Lashari who was already in the middle of a recorded interview with a local magazine. “Whatever Billy’s saying isn’t true.” The filmmaker rapidly jokes back, “Hamza is a terrible actor!”

The atmosphere at The Legend of Maula Jatt’s promotions is electrifying as the duo then sits together for one of many interviews scheduled for the evening. Moments later, Lashari’s Mukkho arrives. Mahira Khan looked breathtaking in her true Jattni ensemble; with long tresses adorning her waist and chunky silver jewellery coupled with a plain black outfit. Sitting alongside producer Ammara Hikmat is Nasir Adeeb, the writer of Lashari’s magnum opus.

The return of Maula Jatt

“It’s a very different evening than what I am used to,” he tells me as we sit for a chat. Adeeb, who has a glittering career of over 50 years, has written 412 films so far. But 1979's Maula Jatt remains a timeless classic that would always be touted as his best work.

“Bilal came to meet me and told me that he wants to make a film. And not just any film, he wants to make Maula Jatt. I was silent for a while. He asked me the reason. I told him that people in India must have thought about remaking Sholay. But they didn’t because they must have thought about who could nail the role of Gabbar Singh, Jai and Veeru,” Adeeb comments.

Maula Jat (1979)


“Similarly, if you’d make Maula Jatt, fans will think about Mustafa Qureshi and Sultan Rahi. But Bilal was adamant about working on the idea of Maula Jatt. He told me that the characters would be the same, but we will build a new story. We worked on the story together, but once we finished the script, I thought to myself that this story wouldn’t attract the audience,” he further elaborates.

The playwright then comments that he was shown a rough idea of where the film will be shot and what the get-up actors would do. “Bilal’s attention to detail for the film was impeccable. He is a genius when it comes to filmmaking and there was no doubt about it. I knew we had a good project on hand,” Adeeb smiles.

The writer adds how the ideation of his characters from the 70s came alive with Lashari’s brilliance. While there’s no Mustafa Qureshi or Sultan Rahi this time around, Adib is confident Fawad Khan plays a convincing protagonist while Hamza Ali Abbasi is his perfect nemesis.

The jitters set in

“I’m kind of nervous and excited,” the Ms. Marvel star chuckles, as he sits comfortably in an all-black shalwar kameez with a matching waistcoat. The actor, who has been swamped with one interview after the other, looks at ease, even though promotions aren’t his favourite part about the film, he tells me.
“Well, I am more nervous than excited. I have been away from a Pakistani screen for a long time. Not just cinema but just about any medium. I did a few cameos here and there, but I didn’t have to face the music after that. But this is big! I am one of the main casts here, so the pressure is definitely there.”

Breathing life into characters

Talking about his character and how he prepped for it, Khan goes on, “There was no inspiration behind it. And I will tell you why.” He elaborates, "Maula Jatt came out in the 70s, we are now sitting in 2022. The audience is very different as well. The taste has changed and evolved – for better or for worse. So, yes. Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi are veterans and to emulate what they did would be near to impossible. Especially for a person like me, who’s not fluent in Punjabi and really had a task on hand. I had to learn the language, which I have really forgotten now.”

For his arch-nemesis, nailing the language was the easier bit in the process of getting under the skin of his character. “I was part of this project from the very beginning. I was very excited to do this. I was very excited about Bilal’s vision of executing his idea of Noori. It was easier for me to do this role because I was a part of this project from the start,” Abbasi shares.

Talking about Noori, Abbasi asserts that contrary to the popular belief, the antagonist of this film isn’t as violent or gory as it might seem. “He keeps violence as last resort,” the actor tells me. However, it was very challenging, still. “The get-up of Noori was exhausting, with Lahore’s heat, the beard, the hair. Filling the shoes of Mustafa Qureshi Sahab was an added pressure. I can call it the most challenging character of my career,” Abbasi adds.


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Lashari's Mukkho Jattni shares similar sentiments as her Humsafar costar. The Raees diva plays Maula’s love interest in the film. But it wasn’t the most difficult role she’s played so far. “I think this character was difficult for me because of the language as well. But I learned it. Bilal just wanted me to be myself. He told me to be the girl who’s at her happiest. And when I started speaking Punjabi, my body language changed. I became more robust, more inhibited,” she laughs.

Humaima Malick’s Daro, as per the actor who essays it, is fearless. Malick shares that Lashari got her onboard around the time she was working on another project. Once signed, the Arth star reveals she was asked by her director to not watch the previous Maula Jatt so as to not be confused with the 1970s Daro.

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“My inspiration was Eva Green from 300,” Malick comments. “But since I was playing a Punjabi jattni, the challenges were very different. I was always a very slim girl all my life. But I was asked to put on some weight on the film. I enjoyed the process.

Daro’s fearless, she’s fire! There’s a difference between being bold and being fearless. She’s confident of her sensuality. She’s proud of it. She’s not auctioning it, she’s owning it!”

Like Malick, Mirza Gohar Rasheed was also instructed by Lashari to not watch the original Maula Jatt. While many might think Makha is more suited to Rasheed’s career graph, the actor doesn’t believe it to be so.

“There’s this idea in the country that if an actor is good while portraying a role, he or she gets stereotyped for it,” he says. “Every character has its own challenges and the same was the case with Makha and with Bhatti (Rasheed’s character in his last offering, London Nahi Jaunga). They were not easy roles to play. I received a call in 2013, Bilal told me that he wants to cast me for this character, Makha Natt, Noori’s youngest sibling. I was more honoured about being a part of Bilal’s dream project other than being a part of this magnum opus. The process of transforming myself into Maakha Natt was easy, thanks to Bilal. He has this utmost clarity on how he wants all his characters to look, to speak. I just submitted myself to him, I was just following his lead.”

He adds, “One thing I did know after understanding Bilal’s vision of Maakha Natt, is that he is nowhere near the classic character. Muzaffar Adeeb was the actor who played Maakha in the original film. I can’t reveal much but little that I can tell you is that he’s the most mischievous and the naughty one.

The weirdest bit was that Bilal wanted me to grow out my hair for the role. And it took a long time to do that and then another three years to keep my hair of that length. God bless women, truly.”

While most of the cast of the film are seasoned actors, there’s an artist who’s set to make his big-screen debut. The moment Faris Shafi stepped into the venue, the cast erupted in a cheer. Rasheed, Abbasi along with the director, Lashari, invited the rapper to join them in an ongoing interview.

“This is exactly how he’d walk into the sets every day,” Hikmat, who was witnessing the reunion, laughs. “He’d come in for shooting the goriest scenes with this infectious energy, a backpack and sunnies on, laughing, meeting everyone on his way in. He brought in so much joy, the swag we needed.”

Shafi, at this point, shakes his head. “She’s telling the truth. I had to bring in my laid-back attitude. But it’s been a lot of fun!” the Muaziz Saarif singer chuckles. Shafi then notes that despite the fun on sets, he does realise it’s a herculean project to take up for a debut. “I would say that it was Bilal and Ammara’s trust in me that they cast me in this huge film,” he says. “It’s been amazing from the beginning. But I wasn’t nervous about nailing Mooda. When I started shooting for it, Bilal had already laid out the plan for me. I just had to follow. When I got on board, the planning stage was already at a very advanced stage. Bilal lets you play around with the character, there are no restrictions."

The focal point

The chemistry between Maula and Noori must be the focal point in the film, Lashari had previously shared. And Khan concurs. The Khoobsurat star adds, “Well, Hamza and I haven’t really known each before Maula Jatt. There was social acquittance, but I didn’t know him very well. Maula and Noori’s relationship is purely antagonistic. It kind of helped that we didn’t know each other too well. I am a bit of a shy, intimidating person while he’s a loud and happening person with being charming at the same time. It just worked.”

Abbasi adds, “It was important for me that the actor who plays Maula be really good at it since Maula and Noori have such an intense relationship because I would feed off of his energy. Fawad has worked so brilliantly that it just worked for us. I think Maula Jatt is also his best performance so far.”

The Verna actor comments that she is very glad to not be headlining this film. “I am glad that the weight of carrying a film isn’t on my shoulders this time. I’m not the main girl, I just know that I gave my all for Mukkho,” she concludes.
 
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From yak hair beards to designer dhotis: An insider’s look at the styling in The Legend of Maula Jatt


A lot of detail went into creating the costumes and makeup for the movie and its star cast.

Maliha Rehman

The shoot was lit up with torches. A heavy crane perched high in the sky shone a light down on to the set of The Legend of Maula Jatt, giving the illusion of moonlight. The cast consisted of some of Pakistan’s top stars as well as a myriad of extras, all dressed in costumes that were a throwback to a long-ago time in which Bilal Lashari’s fantastical escapist tale of good versus bad unfolds. At some points, stylist Aabroo Hashmi would step in and splash synthetic blood on to the cast. And right before the camera would roll, the cast’s feet and hands would be ‘dirtied’, the nails caked with mud so that they looked the part.

There was a time when producer Ammara Hikmat frantically tried to locate a dentist. Actor Gohar Rasheed had lost the gold tooth casing that he wore for his character Maakha Natt and a replacement was needed urgently for the shoot to continue!

TLoMJ has taken its time to makes its way to cinemas — at least six years since the movie was first conceptualised — but now that the release date is merely days away, I am getting the chance to hear some very riveting behind-the-scenes stories. The trailer and promotional posters have offered glimpses of a movie that promises to be high on visuals and styling. Director Lashari is touted to have had incorporated an impressive range of special effects. The movie’s infamous star cast looks transformed in their on-screen avatars. Evidently, their transformations were the fruition of days of research and quite a bit of expenditure.

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“We had worked with Bilal Lashari before and he used to mention that when he made his next movie, he’d take us on board,” says stylist Maram Azmat, one half of the Maram Aabroo duo responsible for the spectacular styling of TLoMJ’s characters. “Around the end of 2015, we started working with him on TLoMJ. He asked us to do research and we would spend hours brainstorming with him.”

Yak hair and splashes of blood

The scale and creative freedom that TLoMJ would allow them excited Maram Aabroo to the extent that they went an extra mile to ensure that their work looked authentic. Aabroo took a course in wig-making at Pinewood Studios in London. They also randomly reached out via social media to Brian Sipe, a prosthetic and makeup artist who worked frequently with Marvel Studios. To their surprise, he responded. “He gave us online crash courses and spent hours explaining to us how to go about creating the looks that we had envisioned,” recalls Maram. “He was very worried that we wouldn’t be able to do things correctly and even invited us to physically visit the Star Wars set where he was working at that time.”

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“Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that!” says Aabroo. “But Brian has designed his own prosthetics line and among other things, it allows you to recreate bruising, scars and blood. Eventually, we placed orders with him for his products. We bought different sets for different actors. Ammara invested heavily into ensuring that the characters’ styling was at par with Hollywood standards!”
Wigs were created for each character and since they were very expensive, they were safeguarded with great effort. “I learnt wig-making especially for this movie,” says Aabroo, “and I went to great lengths to customise wigs for each character. I specially travelled to Karachi to create moulds of Hamza and Gohar’s heads and faces, wrapping their faces and marking the hairline and beard line. The wigs were so expensive that they had to be taken off very gently.”

 Gohar Rasheed

Gohar Rasheed

The characters’ beards offered their own challenges, structured from yak hair that had to be stuck together hair by hair. “Basically, you had to hold the hair in your hand, trim it to size and then apply it to the face,” describes Aabroo. “There were times when we would go through about three hours getting the actor ready and it would start raining and shooting would get cancelled. It was exhausting!”

And then, they ran out of yak hair. “I asked one of my husband’s friends who was the Assistant Commissioner of Hunza at the time to send us some hair and he sent us a huge unprocessed bundle, sheared fresh off the yaks!” laughs Maram. “We had to clean it, treat it, dye it — it was a once in a lifetime experience!”

 Hamza Ali Abbasi

Hamza Ali Abbasi

Did it stink? “Oh yes, it certainly did!” confirms Maram.

Aabroo was the official blood thrower on set — but she didn’t just simply splash faux blood wherever she pleased. “The angle at which they had been hurt had to be figured out and I would splash the blood there,” she says.

Before the camera would roll, actors would be ‘dirtied down’, with their nails, hands, neck and even feet caked with dirt. “We didn’t know what angle the camera would be shooting at so we just made sure that the actor was dirtied all over,” says Maram.

Makeup had to be realistic and unconventional. Eye-bags and kajal were added to make Hamza Ali Abbasi’s Noori Natt look suitably menacing. Humaima Malik’s villainous Daaro was given what Maram describes as a ‘slightly goth’ look. “Her hair was pitch black and completely straight and she had kajal in her eyes. We didn’t apply blush to her face because we wanted her to look pale with her blue veins showing.”

 Humaima Malik

Humaima Malik

Fawad Khan as the heroic Maula has to look good but rustic. Being a street fighter with not much money, he was particularly dirtied down extensively. His leading lady Mahira Khan aka Mukho had braided hair in order to retain a ‘playful’ look, according to Maram.

Of dhotis and gauntlets

Beyond the hair and makeup, the responsibilities for wardrobe were handed over to designers Fahad Hussayn and Zara Shahjahan for the male and female characters respectively. “The movie is framed in a time at which there were no stitched [clothes] and people would generally use draped cloth,” observes Hussayn. “I couldn’t do that so I created very baggy, uncomplicated silhouettes, hand-hemmed with minimal stitches so that they had a rough, unprocessed look.”

 Fawad Khan

Fawad Khan

Also, in an effort to make the wardrobe authentic, Hussayn utilised organic fabrics, colouring them with natural dyes. “I did all these experiments in texturisation,” he says. “Bilal was very particular about the colours that he wanted to see on screen. He would sit in my studio and make me dye something 20 times until he was able to see the ‘dark green’ or ‘very dark blue’ that he had in mind. When I stood behind him, watching the screen of his shoot, I would understand why he had wanted something a particular way.”

 The Natts

The Natts

The evil, affluent Natts wore rich, dark colours. Their outfits were accessorised with belts, swords, money bags and extra gauntlets, all created by Hussayn. Gohar’s Maakha Natt, possibly the movie’s most flamboyant character, even had strings of taaweez wound down the length of his arm.

 Faris Shafi

Faris Shafi

Faris Shafi’s Mooda, Maula’s best friend, wore bright colours with some embroideries in order to depict his colourful personality. “He isn’t rich, though, so his accessories and clothes aren’t too elaborate,” points out Hussayn.

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Maula wore dark tones except in the romantic scenes where he will be seen wearing lighter colours. The colour palette of the villagers that form the backdrop — Hussayn estimates that sometimes there were as many as 300 extras on set — was mostly earthy.

 Maula and Mukho

Maula and Mukho

A turban-tying team enlisted by Hussayn had the daunting task of hand-tying every character’s turban, from the extras to the main cast. “Back then, turbans were only hand-tied. We couldn’t have it any other way,” says the designer.

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On the other end of the spectrum, Zara Shahjahan followed her vision for the female characters. The designer recalls long brainstorming sessions with Lashari — evidently, the conceptualisation of TLoMJ was a longwinded tedious journey in itself. “The character development was as important as the clothes,” she says. “I took inspiration from the Urdu fantasy tales of my childhood. Humaima was evil, she had long hair and wore luxurious clothes. For her, I chose silks and satins. There are some scenes in which she wears a fitted satin shirt with a dhoti, as a homage to Punjabi film sirens,” she explains.
“For Mahira, I chose simple earthy colours. Her clothes were fashioned from khaddar and malmal and paired with traditional dupattas. Her hair was braided and she even had slight freckles,” describes the designer.

 Mahira Khan

Mahira Khan

Was it also a concern that the actors, all powerful names in Pakistani entertainment, look good even while being in costume? “There was, initially, but slowly, we all warmed to the idea of just making the movie look as authentic as possible,” says Maram.
There was a lot of hard work and thought invested into a single movie — perhaps much more than is usually put into conventional cinema fare. Then again, TLoMJ does seem to be the sort of movie that is borne out of passion more than anything else. The effort shows in the trailer and the promotional posters — it is hoped that it will be even more dazzling on the cinema screen.
 
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