When Melody Queen Noor Jehan visited India in 1982, a little more than three decades after she had left for Pakistan, veteran actor Dilip Kumar said, “The years you have spent far away from us… are the years that we have spent waiting for you.” Fans of Fawad Khan would probably say the same. For the past few years, Khan has made only cameo appearances, like his appearance in Ms. Marvel earlier this year, but he’s finally returned to the big screen with the Pakistani Punjabi action drama, The Legend of Maula Jatt (2022). With wild, long hair and scars on his face, Khan looks nothing like the debonair, urbane hero that he’s best known for. Touted to be the most expensive project in the history of Pakistani cinema, The Legend of Maula Jatt reunites Khan with Mahira Khan, and revolves around the rivalry between a prizefighter Maula Jatt and Noori Nath, the leader of a vicious gang. The film is directed by Bilal Lashari and also stars Hamza Ali Abbasi and Humaima Malick in pivotal roles.
On the eve of the release of The Legend of Maula Jatt, Film Companion spoke to Khan about preparing for this comeback role, his chemistry with the leading ladies, and midlife crisis.
A six-year absence
I think I have overcome my fear of anonymity. Or at least it’s not surfacing. The only thing I fear is when I put in a lot of hard work into something and that doesn’t turn out to be good enough. I was always clear that showbiz is a complicated career and there will be ups and downs and all these phases must be accepted and cherished. The rat race mess was never for me. As you grow older, your preferences change and you stay away from the unnecessary noise. At the end of the day, I am not running for elections here. It's an entertainment industry and I need to ensure that I focus on the quality and not quantity.
If you ask me to list the characters that I would want to play which I haven’t played yet, I would say there are many. But do I feel that I have missed out? No. I have created a repository of work which I believe is decent and I am happy with that. On the way, there have been regrets and second thoughts, but that’s natural as nobody gets it right every time. I should be able to look back with pride. This is what success means to me.
Preparing for Maula Jatt
I cannot say if back in the day, the audience specifically noticed the over-the-top element in the film. I think the audience then enjoyed the overall experience of cinema. The gandaasa (a chopper that looks like a long-handled axe), which was common in the scripts of that era, brought that over-the-top flavour to the films. I agree that the intensity of Punjabi language requires you to play to the gallery and the body language is a little loud. But I have never played such a role so I did not have any personal references. In fact, I was very surprised when Bilal Lashari cast me in this role. I have not watched a lot of Punjabi films, which is why there was not much to unlearn. The physical transformation, the extensions, the bloodshed and the prosthetics also helped bring the character to life.
Working with Mahira Khan
People love your chemistry with an artist and it is indeed an achievement, but it is also your job to make every chemistry believable. I have worked like that since Humsafar [the TV serial that catapulted Fawad and Mahira Khan to superstardom]. If I did not, this would become an obstacle. Also, I believe that around the world, the pairing fantasy has changed. People have stopped romanticising the past as they are always looking for something new and different. In Pakistan, since the entertainment industry has gone through long pauses, we are taking time to move on.
Social media and superstardom
Social media and the ease of accessibility to stars has a lot to do with why the legend of film superstars has diminished over time. And not only films, the music industry has also fallen victim to this phenomenon. It’s the basic demand and supply rule. Excess supply will impact shelf life no matter how big a star is. Over time, the life of the film has also been impacted. The recall value has also gone for a toss because of the choices that are available to us. There is a plethora of content that has invaded our homes and we hardly get time to revisit a film once you are done with it. With every addition to the platform, there is a dent somewhere or the other. Remember the song Video killed the radio star! It never felt truer.
OTT = Ghar ki murgi
I think the purpose of both mediums is different. OTT is more personalised. It allows you to take your own sweet time to absorb the content. There is no rush to consume it. Films on the other hand follow the industry format and a timeline. There are collaborations and finances involved. It's an amalgamation of arts and commerce. OTT takes a lot of risk and there is a certain level of convenience attached to it. Cinema is an altogether different experience because nothing compares to the big screen. You may cook an amazing chicken karahi at home but it will be nothing like what you get outside. That’s how I see it.
Life after 40
I think I hit my midlife crisis when I was 34, so I was done early. Yes, life is kind of different after 40 but, in a good way. I don’t worry about it anymore. I have become more accepting in nature. What’s going to happen, will happen. It’s not like I am really keen to die, but I am positively aware that health will fail and one day I am not going to be here anymore. The busiest time of my life was when I was 34 or 35 and then by the time I was approaching 40, I realised that there is no need to panic and everything will fall into place at its own pace. God has been kind and my focus is to do my best for my family.
The future of Pakistani cinema
I am a freshman when it comes to making films so I have limited information here. I feel that there is a fine line between being inspired and aping something. Inspiration gives you an opportunity to evolve and allows you to learn something new. There is no need to replicate, instead our films should tell the stories of our own. Pakistani cinema will flourish when the story that we are telling is our own. An example would be Iranian cinema; the respect and reach that they have earned is a living testament that when you present your distinct stories through your films, you come at par with any other foreign cinema.
On false praises
I am my harshest critic. I can detect false praise easily. Most of the time I have to convince the director that it wasn’t such a good shot, or I push for another one. If I really like something, then I admit to that as well. Which is why, with all my humility I say that I am an ok actor and I have done fairly well because I have been able to look at my work objectively, I try to look at my work as an audience.
Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai based entertainment writer. His Instagram handle is @sadiqidas.