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Tuesday February 27, 2024

Writing Punjabi cinema

Nasir Adeeb speaks to Instep Today about his involvement with The Legend of Maula Jatt

October 22, 2022

Karachi: The quiet Koel Cafe in Karachi is tucked away in a lane in Clifton. The peaceful ambience of the establishment, and the gallery it hosts on its grounds makes it one of those rare places in Karachi one can have a quiet cup of tea and conversation without competing with noisy crowds.

But, on one Friday evening, the peace was swapped in favor of the bustle created by the media, digital outlets, broadcast and print journalists who were present to speak to the cast of The Legend of Maula Jatt.

Among them were actors Fawad Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malick, Gohar Rasheed and Mahira Khan as well as the film’s director and D.O.P. Bilal Lashari and producer Ammara Hikmat.

Between that day and now, the film has released and has impressed most critics as well as fans who are heading to cinemas within and outside the country.

With a strict time duration allotted to various people, Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan – reuniting for the first time since Humsafar in prominent fashion - not only gave interviews or quotes to various forms of the press but also played the game of taboo in good spirits.

During this chaos, the man who invented the gandasa genre and wrote the original Maula Jatt films - including creating iconic characters upon whom Bilal Lashari’s epic film is based – was also present.

Sitting and having a smoke, talking to people who recognized him, Nasir Adeeb, was as approachable as the director of the film, Bilal Lashari. Some of the chief characters in the film were first created by him decades ago.

Forthcoming and comfortable while talking to Instep Today, he remained down-to-earth despite his long-term association with Punjabi cinema and lending his expertise to what has been hailed as the country’s most expensive and groundbreaking film to date.

As Nasir Adeeb noted, he was happy to see these characters come back to life in a newer fashion while retaining the base set by the original films.

In fact, he admitted he didn’t write for one character so much as he helped shaping the narrative with his words through various arcs within the film.

He understood how historic these characters have been to the Pakistani film industry and therefore wondered if they would be accepted by a newer generation.

Pushing it aside, however, he went to work.

“I wrote without thinking that the actors didn’t know Punjabi at all,” he says, drawing deeply on his cigarette before continuing, “I wrote with the faith that everyone knew the language, even though my director and producer are not well-versed with the language.”

“I didn’t let these things come into the writing. I kept the original actors in mind while writing with the idea that they knew Punjabi. And that worked, as they got it [right].”

Explaining what the process was like, Nasir explained that Bilal Lashari heard the scenes from him and recorded them. “The recording was sent to the (respective) actor and they learned and understood those and listened to it again and again to the point that they had learned them completely. And their diction and understanding of the characters came out in impeccable fashion.”

A question that I have put before actors of the film is how much pressure do they feel given the great expectations thrust upon the film. When posed with the same question, Nasir Adeeb said, “I have left it up to God. The idea was to work hard and leave the rest to fate.”

He admitted that there was a sense of fear because the original characters were introduced to a different audience decades ago and times have certainly changed. However, given how these are our characters, he hoped the film would go on to captivate people as it had done in its previous incarnation[s].

Answering a question about moving beyond the narrative between Maula Jatt (Fawad Khan) and Noori Natt (Hamza Ali Abbasi), to the supporting cast’s arcs, Nasir explained that it is not a black and white film. “There is no character in the film that exists for insignificant reason. Each of them has a story, an arc that makes them important to the overall film. All those stories are connected to either Maula Jatt or Noori Natt.

“Bilal Lashari had a vision for each character. And working with Bilal was a brilliant experience. He never made me feel like he was the director, and because I was the co-writer, we now share a bond that will continue to exist whether we work together again or not. I learned a lot from him. I was 40 years behind when writing this film but in working with Bilal Lashari, I was able to close the gap of 40 years.”

– The Legend Of Maula Jatt is directed by Bilal Lashari and produced by Ammara Hikmat under the joint venture of Encyclomedia and Lashari films, in association with AAA Motion Pictures. The filmmakers have partnered with Geo Films as their exhibiting partner, which is not just the largest media group in the country but also a vital contributor to the revival of cinema in Pakistan. The Legend of Maula Jatt will be locally distributed by Nadeem Mandviwalla of Mandviwalla Entertainment, known for his contribution to cinema. On the international front, the film will be distributed by MovieGoers Entertainment.