The seasoned actor and former musician, who is exceptional in the titular role of The Legend of Maula Jatt, talks about his long-term association with writer,director and cinematographer, Bilal Lashari.
“And I’m inside my room/Captured in a moment’s thought/Strummin’ on a chord from my guitar.”
– ‘On a Quiet Night’ by The Association
awad Afzal Khan admits that it was the drama serial Dastaan from 2010 that converted him into a dedicated actor. Followed by other serials such as Akbari Asghari, Khan was determined to perform better with every project. With Sarmad Khoosat’s Humsafar, Khan became a household name. The serial catapulted him to the superstar category along with his co-star, Mahira Khan.
But before taking this format of performing arts too seriously, Fawad was better known as a musician from the iconic band, EP. His association with Bilal Lashari goes back to those early days of EP – long before The Legend of Maula Jatt had arrived and decimated every other film at the box office at home and abroad. What also helped matters is how the film won nearly unanimous critical acclaim.
During a surprisingly forthcoming interview with Instep last month, Fawad Khan recalled how the relationship between director (Bilal Lashari) and actor has built over decades.
“It’s a little-known fact that Bilal (Lashari) was almost a keyboardist in our band,” laughs Fawad Khan heartily.
“Before Bilal went abroad to study filmmaking, he was in LUMS. Bilal and I were not really good friends back then,” he remembers. “But we knew of each other since school. We’ve known each other since the 1990s,” says Fawad. “I knew that Bilal could play the piano really well. After a jam session, we were like ‘yeah man, it’s cool’ but Bilal disappeared.”
“Come as you are, as you were/As I want you to be/As a friend, as a friend.”
– ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana
As Fawad provides a window into the past, he explains, “My wife (Sadaf) also studied at the same educational institution as did several friends.”
During his youthful days, Fawad admits he frequently when to LUMS. It was during those days that he met Lashari “one fine day” and the latter confessed that he was going abroad to study filmmaking.
“When he came back, Bilal was actually the person who introduced me to Shoaib Mansoor. He was initially the assistant director for Khuda Kay Liye [Khan’s debut film]. And then Bilal left and went back to finish his degree. He didn’t finish it, I think, but he came back and started making music videos.”
Bilal Lashari began creating a showreel as music video director and director of photography with some prominent and brilliant work including ‘Islamabad’ by Abrar ul Haq, ‘Hangami Halat by Atif Aslam, ‘Sajni’ by Jal and ‘Dhamaal’ by Overload.
Years later Lashari approached Khan for the elaborate music video of Mekaal Hasan Band’s ‘Chal Bulleya’ based on the idea of seven deadly sins.
“Bilal and I did collaborate - not just as an actor and director – but on other things. He made an advertisement and I did a jingle for it at one point.”
As Fawad reminisces, he recalls that throughout the years, the two did work sporadically before The Legend of Maula Jatt. Bilal even directed an EP music video called ‘Shor Macha’.
“‘Chal Bulleya’ was actually the first time when we worked as actor-director and then he came onboard to do EP’s music video, ‘Shor Macha’. Life went on and then came Waar (2013).”
It was Bilal Lashari’s directorial debut film with a prominent ensemble cast with Shaan Shahid at the center of it.
“At that time, I had [already] done Humsafar and Bilal approached me for The Legend of Maula Jatt. However, there was no actual script. He was toying with the idea. Things started building from there. We sat down and there were a lot of discussions. When we came on set, I told him that I’m the weakest Punjabi speaker here. So, it’s going to be an exercise and we did those exercises and got where we are.”
In hindsight, Khan is clear that The Legend of Maula Jatt cemented an actor-director relationship. “But in this relationship, hats off to Bilal for what he has pulled off. At one point, we all wondered if this film could even happen and what it would look like. Bilal pieced it together very well. It has been a very collaborative exercise. If I had a question or I had a suggestion, Bilal would be as receptive as I would be to him, which is my job.”
In those collaborative exercises, says Fawad, it was necessary to know someone as a friend.
“I like working in comfort zones. It took us a while to warm up to each other even though Bilal Lashari is extremely friendly, helpful and there is an atmosphere of ease around him.”
For the reclusive Khan, it took him some time to feel comfortable in the setting but once he crossed the Rubicon, it changed the equation. “We [Khan and Lashari] would both sit down and think about how the film looked great here but how would it [the film] look like on the editing table?
“The second acting exercise is when you start dubbing and when we were dubbing for the film, it went on another level.”
This is, according to Fawad, their history of working together and how the relationship evolved over time.
“It was a learning experience for me,” Fawad concludes on a cheerful note.
While this article goes to print, The Legend of Maula Jatt is fast approaching Rs 200 crore at the local and international box office combined. If trade reports are believed, it has the honour of being the first film in four years [from the Subcontinent] to achieve these numbers.