December 10, 2022
“Nawa aya e sohneya?” asks Noori Natt, the villain of The Legend of Maula Jatt (2022), to a new prisoner. “Are you new here, dear?” Natt then kills the intruder for daring to disturb him during dinner. This question is one of the most recognizable dialogues from Pakistani cinema, from the film’s decades-old predecessor: Maula Jatt (1979). Both movies are about Maula Jatt, a lone figure whose quest to deliver justice — often through violence — brings him face-to-face with Noori Natt, the leader of a clan terrorizing Punjab.
“Even people who haven’t watched the movie know that line,” said M. Ali Kapadia, who has examined the cultural impact of Maula Jatt at length.
When filmmaker Bilal Lashari unveiled the first look of The Legend of Maula Jatt in 2018, the popularity of the film’s source material and cast — which included Pakistani superstars Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, and Hamza Ali Abbasi — made the success of the film a foregone conclusion. What was unexpected, however, was that upon its release four years later, The Legend of Maula Jatt — reportedly the most expensive Pakistani film made to date, with a budget of 450 to 550 million Pakistani rupees (PKR) or $2-2.5 million — would break not only domestic but also international records for Pakistani films, earning over 2 billion PKR (about $8.9 million) globally. International audiences alone accounted for 60% of gross box office sales. So why so much love for a regional-language film from a country far better known for its TV serials than its cinema?