Maula Jat (1979)


Maula Jat (Director’s Cut) (1979)
Cast: Sultan Rahi, Mustafa Qureshi, Aasia, Chakori, Kaifee, Seema, Aalia, Anita
Director: Yunus Malik
Nutshell: A uniquely Punjabi experience that is now a legend and myth as much as it is a film……thrills, spills, raunch, paunch……THE Lollywood classic.

On the face of it, just another revenge laden action masala pot-boiler and yet it has gone on to become so much more than just another punjabi movie.  A trendsetter like none other before it, more talked about and controversial than perhaps any other film produced in Pakistani cinema history and a film that has evolved into the first home made Superhero and “brand name” that ever spluttered out of this motley Pakistani film industry. “How and why” is a conversation that continues nearly 40 years on from its release and will probably continue for as long as Pakistani films are discussed.  What makes it so unique among its peers?  The answer may not be so clearly evident and there may be dozens of differing theories out there.  The fact remains, no movie has ever had the impact on Pakistani popular culture and folklore as this one.

It’s a fascinating blend of the usual twisted Lollywood formula, but done with tremendous rustic panache and style. The characters, as with all Punjabi films are much, much larger than life – part of the “charm” of the film. The plot has nothing new to offer and begins with the absolutely mandatory attempted rape scene which is aborted due to the timely intervention of Maula Jat, Lollywood’s version of Superman.

There is the usual posturing between Maula and would be rapist…. each reminding the other of “who they were talking to”. There is a brief interlude where the mother, always morally upright and pious delivers a rollicking to the rapist, who is obviously well connected (his brother is the much-feared mass murderer Noorie Nut, currently residing in Jail).

The rapist has to go back home having not accomplished his task, which in itself is source of great shame for his family and their “honour”. While the would be rapist returns home to a roasting from his sister for besmirching the family honour for not having accomplished the rape he had set out to, (the livid sister then shoots her brother dead to preserve the family “honour”) while the woman who was nearly raped and has now been rescued by Maula, feels that it’s not enough for her – She bursts into an energizing, hip swivelling number which ends spectacularly with blood spurting from her feet as she proceeds to do spins on some craggy rocks.

Her feet soon turn to pulp and then she spouts blood from her mouth…. just time enough to deliver a death speech letting us know that she felt ashamed for having been the target of an attempted rape and that felt her “honour” had been compromised forever and thus death was the only way out. You can see a pattern emerging here and it is clearly evident that this subjective notion of “honour” is the foremost guiding factor for these people……it is the be all and end all of life this thing called “izzat” or “honour”. This notion in itself if probably the biggest hypocrisy of all that our society is afflicted with. The notion of “honour” in a society that is virtually bereft of the very notion itself.

The rest of the movie is a string of set pieces where our two protagonists Maula Jat and Noorie Nut exchange thunderous one liners at each other as well as a number of high pitched, resonating, soul stirring war cries unique to Punjabi culture known as the “barrak”. The movie is littered with these confrontation scenes where meaty, juicy, crowd-pleasing couplets are exchanged – the script writers coming up with their juiciest one liners to mesmerize the audience with. The “barrak” or “verbal brawl” has been described as a hallmark of the Maula Jat style Punjabi movie. According to noted Lollywood expert Mushtaq Gazdar (from his book Pakistani Cinema) “barrak” is a high-pitched, full-throated, threatening yell, a sort of warming up, a prelude to a brawl, verbal or physical, difficult to explain through any single word in English or Urdu.

The man who initiated (invented?) this form of expression in local cinema was Mazhar Shah, the first prototype villain of this genre. – excerpt from Gazdar’s excellent book. Chakori has turned in a spectacular performance, probably the best of her career as the sister of Noorie Nut (Daro Nathni – a role she reprised years later in Wehshi Aurat) who is as at least as demented and psychotic as her brother, the fabulous Noorie is played astonishingly well by Mustafa Qureshi.

The films confrontation scenes, the screen presence of the stars, Qureshi and Sultan Rahi as well as the racy pacing help the film from turning into the usual drudgery. Chakori adds tremendous spark and veteran Aalia shines briefly and Aasia shows why she ruled before being succeeded by Anjuman. The soundtrack is also one of the best in Lollywood history with innovative use of drones for the villain’s theme. It’s a very effective aspect of the film. Credit also to Kaifi and especially to Seema who turns in a blinder as Daani. The music too contains some crowd-pleasing numbers, by men for a change. that were big crowd pleasers.

The film, despite the horrid production values does have some crude style to it and it certainly moves along at a sizzling pace. The fights are ridiculous but amusing all the same for there being so utterly over the top. Perhaps it is Qureshi’s menace as Noorie Nut that provides the film with its real beef. The chemistry between himself and Rahi is absolutely intense and electric enough for sparks to truly fly during the juicy confrontation couplets……and thus the audience absolutely relish it. Their partnership was to continue in countless movies, but the novelty didn’t last. The other major factor in the film’s success is the script that has been loaded to the brim with stunning couplets and one liners that leave the crowd gasping in disbelief and awe. Not only is the film armed with an explosive script but it is singularly successful in tapping into a Punjabi psyche in a way that few other films have been able.

There’s revenge, killing, violence, rape’s, reverse honour killing (where the woman kills the man for a change!) ……the usual crazy stuff. Still, Maula Jat remains a classic of its kind despite being fodder for the warped – but also a scathing social and political satire between the lines perhaps? The film was a raging success all over the nation but nothing short of a sensation in Punjab where it ran to packed houses for two and a half years until it was forced from screens by a paranoid government, alarmed by its success and the films anti-establishment attitude.

General Zia’s military government of the day tried to get the film stopped weeks after its release but Sarwar Bhatti managed to get a stay order which allowed the film to remain in cinemas for a two-year period. The film did roaring business for the two years and was set to continue its record busting run but the Generals jumped on their chance on the lapse of the stay order and the film was removed from screens and banned from further exhibition. The film was also responsible for the government hurrying in a new code for filmmakers which prohibited them from portraying the establishment in too harsh a light. Maula Jats two-and-a-half-year run remains the record for any Punjabi film and the movie could well have gone on to challenge Aina for the longest running Lollywood film ever had the government not forced it off screens.

People in the know claim that one of the major reasons for the films extraordinary success was that the producers illegally incorporated scenes of the film that had been given the chop by the censors. There were scenes of unprecedented carnage in the film which had been removed by the censors, but these bits were put back into the film when it played in cinemas. One scene had Maula Jat axing off a leg and an arm and then catching the severed limb as it flew through the air in his bare hands! Another had Maula’s axe ripping open a man’s guts to have the intestines fly out spectacularly. When the government got wind of the flagrant abuse of the censor’s order, the campaign to get Maula Jat banned gained even more emphasis than before.

Sarwar Bhatti was furious at the government action, quite rightly so, however he had amassed his fortune over and over in the two and a half years that the film broke all sorts of Box Office records.

On a recent trip to Royal Park (October 2001) we found that there was a spectacularly painted poster of Maula Jat being prepared for Sarwar Bhatti (the producer/owner) of Maula Jat and that the film is due for a re-release with all those infamous gory bits reincorporated. A mouth-watering proposition, and for full effect one ought to try to watch the film on the very day it is re-released, preferably in one of the Laxmi Chowk cinemas!

Our chance to watch the film in its complete uncensored version finally arrived on the 19th of March, 2002 when Mr. Sarwar Bhatti very kindly offered to let us borrow a print off him to watch at a local cinema. In fact, we had the pleasure of Mr. Bhatti’s company not only for dinner but for half of the movie as well. I was a little apprehensive about meeting such a legendary character from the industry, not knowing what to expect. However, he arrived exactly on time in a battered white car and seemed perfectly modest and soft spoken, with fiery, expressive eyes and boyish smile.

Mr. Bhatti was clearly a very proud man and rightfully so as when a history of Lollywood is considered, there will always be a chapter reserved for his humongous classic. His Maula Jat is clearly so much more than just a film – I was astonished as I watched the movie with swarms of local cinema hands and friends who had excitedly gathered for our midnight showing of this legendary classic. When Mr. Bhatti suggested that it was late and we should just watch the censored bits, there was an outcry…………everyone present was absolutely dead keen on watching the film from beginning to end, despite the fact that it would end well past am. And so, we got started and soon I was to realise just what a deep influence this film had how it was clearly so much more than just another hit film.

I exaggerate not when I write that 90% of the 30-odd people watching the film knew each and every line of the movie by heart and were reciting the lines along with the movie. Clearly this film is a one of a kind phenomenon which has had more of an influence on local popular culture than any other in the history of Lollywood. Watching the film itself was an exhilarating experience on the big screen with the additional asset of having Mr. Bhatti providing us with a live running commentary which was very enlightening. He also pointed out his own Hitchcock like appearance in the film which we would never have seen if it wasn’t for him telling us. Finally, the breath-taking gore scenes were every bit as juicy as I had imagined them in the most warped of my lurid nightmares. There is a fabulous gandaasa fight scene right after the interval where Maula Jat slashed and hacks a bunch of Noorie’s men to a bloody pulp. His razor sharp gandasa is shown hacking off various arms and legs and the special effects are most impressive as the limbs go hurtling through the air, spouting blood as they fly.

In one of the defining moments of screen splatter (remember, this is 1979), Maula Jat catches one of the hacked limbs as it hurtles through the air and chucks it away mercilessly! The other infamous scene is during the last fight when Maula is attacked by a bunch of horse-riding goons, but manages to fix his gandaasa blade in the nick of time and gut the goons like fishes. This time he plunges his gandaasa into the gut of his enemies and proceeds to twist the instrument before ripping out the intestines of the hapless victims. The audience is treated to the fabulous sight of Maula’s gandaasa with bits of human intestines dangling from the blade – enough to satisfy the most hardened gore hound. No wonder these scenes were chopped off by the censors here in Lollywood as well as the British censors where the UK video release is also missing the succulent moments of astounding gore. Our profound thanks to Mr. Sarwar Bhatti for allowing us to appreciate his masterwork in its complete uncut form on the big screen – as it was in its initial weeks of release before the censors brought out their garden shears.

Actually, to credit Maula Jat solely for creating a legend is not exactly accurate as the entire Maula Jat saga was actually introduced in Hasan Askari’s 1975 genre busting violent epic Wehshi Jatt. This is the film that must be “credited” with beginning the violence laden Jat cycle featuring Sultan Rahi – a cycle that despite Rahi’s untimely death (murder) continues stronger than ever in 2002, over a quarter century since Wehshi Jatt. In fact, at the time of writing a remake of Wehshi Jatt is about to explode onto cinemas starring the Rahi of the new age; Shaan.

All the main characters of the Jat series are introduced to us in Wehshi Jatt including Rahi as Maula, Aasia as Mukho, Seema as Daani, Afzal Ahmed as Roshan and Ilyas Kashmiri as Malka. These characters have gone on to reprise their roles for the subsequent follow up movies including Maula Jat and Jat in London and Roshan Jat. When speaking to Sarwar Bhatti recently I asked him how he came upon the idea of Maula Jat to which he was honest enough to state that in actuality Wehshi Jatt had been the inspiration, the only thing being that Bhatti wanted to take the story a couple of steps further as well as introduce a stunning new adversary in Mustafa Qureshi’s Noorie Nut. Basically, the Kaifi character of Mooda is a reprisal of the role played so endearingly by Iqbal Hassan in Wehshi Jatt while Chakori’s famous Daro Natni is a continuation of Ghazala’s Shammo character from the same movie. Bhatti Sahib asked me if I had seen Wehshi Jatt (which I hadn’t at the time) and informed me that it was his endeavour to recreate the myth introduced in Wehshi Jatt but to produce it on a lavish scale and present his follow up in glorious colour which was something of a novelty for Punjabi films back in 1979 – shot as they mostly were in grainy black and white.

The rest is history and this movie has since then become the template for 90% of Punjabi films produced even if nearly 40 years have passed.  Currently under production is a “revamped” updated, modern version of the legendary film titled “Maula Jat 2”.  Whether it lives up to the legendary status of the original or will it just go down as an attempt at milking what has become Pakistan’s first and only “Brand Name” film remains to be seen.  Time will tell, meanwhile the original Maula Jat stands peerless among Pakistani Punjabi films and has transcended to become something Mythical.  Lightening has never quite in quite the same manner as it did in 1979 despite thousands of attempted clones unleashed on audiences over the years.