By Maliha Rehman
The recently released theatrical trailer of The Legend of Maula Jatt (TLOMJ) hints at a trailblazing, star-studded, SFX-heavy, violent clash of fist and ego about to release in cinemas. Much like Bilal Lashari’s directorial debut from long ago, 2013’s Waar, TLOMJ also promises to offer a first-of-its-kind cinematic experience in the Pakistani film industry. You’re held transfixed by the gladiatorial tussle between a virile, fiery-eyed Fawad Khan and a kohl-eyed, malevolent Hamza Ali Abbasi, or by the sweet, familiar romance of hit-pair Fawad and Mahira Khan in a field of marigolds, a snickering Gohar Rasheed and a sultry Humaima Malick … but then, you get thrown by sets and special effects that are quite as grand as the cast itself.
It is all so riveting that you may miss some of the finer details within the trailer. For instance, in a few seconds long clip, a woman in red is shown twirling amidst blazing torches. One assumes that the woman is Humaima Malick. TLOMJ producer Ammara Hikmat states that the woman is, in fact, fledgling actress Saima Baloch. Saima plays Rajjo, a significant character in the story. Her dance in the movie is three odd minutes long but Ammara says that it took about 80 auditions for the team to zero in on a performer who could both act and dance.
The dance has been choreographed by Rehan Bashir, also popularly known for his work in the fashion industry. Rehan says that he felt both ‘trepidation and excitement’ when he was asked to choreograph the only dance and movement piece in TLOMJ.
“Trepidation because, unlike myself, Bilal’s (Lashari) aesthetics and vision are not that of a traditionalist,” he elaborates. “Excited to be onboard for the project not knowing if I would be able to execute a piece which would encapsulate Bilal’s vision because my training is steeped in tradition. In hindsight, I am really glad that I challenged myself and got out of my comfort zone.”
“The last thing we wanted was to create a reductive ‘item’ number which had no room in the narrative of the film! After having a detailed discussion with Bilal, I decided to create something which had a neo-classical feel. The aim was to plan a choreography which was going to have the essence of classical Kathak, the vigor of Punjabi folk, blended with contemporary movements.”
On working with Saima, Rehan says, “This was a great learning experience for me as I got to work with someone who is not classically trained. Working on an untrained body comes with its challenges but in this case, Saima brought a new nuanced angle to my vocabulary. She imbibed the movements rather beautifully, effortlessly giving the piece grit, rawness and feminine subtlety. This was not an easy feat for any actor and I am convinced that her level of commitment has made this a very powerful performance.”
The dance performance’s impact can only truly be judged once the movie releases but if the visual excellence of the trailer is anything to go by, it will hopefully not disappoint. Producer Ammara Hikmat professes that the role of Rajjo will go a long way in getting Saima noticed.
The actress is so far not very well known, her last prominent role being in the not-too-prominent 2019 disaster Betabiyan. On enacting Rajjo, Saima says, “I want to do roles that get me recognized as a serious performer and I have waited quite long to get the right break on the big screen. Finally, the wait is paying off in the form of this movie.”
She continues, “I have put my heart and soul into the character of Rajjo. When Ammara reached out to me for Maula Jatt and explained the role to me I sent an audition without any expectations. Rehan Bashir was on board as choreographer and went into such detailed preparation that is usually not done locally on projects. For me, acting is like meditation, I forget my surroundings, breathe my craft and that’s what did while on the set of Maula Jatt.”
Regardless, actors, producers and directors tend to rave about their movies prior to the release. An actor’s faith in her role can hardly be a clear indication of how the final movie will be – we’ve leant that the hard way, getting bowled over by the pre-release promotional hype and ending up buying tickets for movies that have turned out to be abysmal.
From the looks of it, though, TLOMJ may really end up being the hard-hitting, gamechanging entertainer that it is being touted to be. The trailer is really something else. The posters are spectacular. The movie could be, too.
Time will tell.