Mahira Khan on Pakistan Box Office Champion ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’

Bilal Lashari’s “The Legend of Maula Jatt,” starring Pakistani superstars Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan (no relation), is now officially the highest grossing Pakistani film of all time.

Produced by Ammara Hikmat’s Encyclomedia and Lashari Films, the film released on Oct. 13, 2022 and has had worldwide collections of $10 million, including $4.2 million in Pakistan. It has far surpassed the $3.2 million grossed globally by previous record holder “Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2” in 2018.

After Pakistan, the most successful territory for the film has been the U.K., where it is distributed by Pranab Kapadia of Moviegoers Entertainment. It has collected £1.43 million ($1.7 million) in the territory, going past 2018’s “Sanju” that took $1.6 million, making it the highest grossing South Asian film there since “Padmaavat,” which grossed $2.5 million, also in 2018. The next highest 2022 grosser from South Asia in the U.K. is “Ponniyin Selvan-1” with $1.5 million.

The Punjabi-language “The Legend of Maula Jatt” is a reboot of Yunus Malik’s 1979 cult classic “Maula Jatt.” The cast for the film, which is one of the biggest budgeted in the history of Pakistani cinema, also includes Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malik, Faris Shafi and Gohar Rasheed. The film focuses on the legendary rivalry between local hero Maula Jatt (Fawad Khan) and Noori Natt (Hamza Ali Abbasi), the leader of a brutal gang. Mahira Khan plays Mukkho, a fiery village woman who is Maula Jatt’s romantic interest.

Mahira Khan, who was previously a VJ with MTV Pakistan and starred in hit series “Humsafar” (2011), has had a string of Pakistani film hits including “Bol” (2011), “Bin Roye” (2015), “Ho Mann Jahaan” (2015), “7 Din Mohabbat In” (2018), “Superstar” (2019) and “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad” (2022).

“The biggest thing that Mukkho had was that she was just such an empowered woman – she loved fearlessly, her moral compass was so intact, she had integrity and she was fierce also,” Khan told Variety. “That was a very big thing that the women in this, in today’s ‘Maula Jatt,’ are very empowered. And I think this is something that a lot of people asked me prior to the release that ‘Are we going to see the same 1970s representation of women? I said, no, you’re going to see Bilal Lashari’s representation of women.’ I’m glad to have been a part of it.”

Khan says that the globally positive reaction to the film was unexpected and that it is the “quintessential reaction” to a good film. The actor’s feelings are shared by her producer and director.

“What a fantastic journey our film has had since its release. The love and appreciation from audiences has made this 10-year ride worth every moment. It is heartening to see people embrace regional cinema across the globe. I hope the success of ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’ will pave the way for stories from Pakistan for a worldwide audience,” Lashari told Variety.

Hikmat added: “Getting noticed outside Punjabi cinema’s area of influence has been remarkable for the film. It would be an understatement if I say that the attention film received, came as a surprise. Yet it felt quite surreal when it got the appreciation and box office success everyone involved in the film had always dreamt of.”

“The Legend of Maula Jatt” is now looking at releasing in Turkey and China. Its global success comes at a time when another Pakistani film, Saim Said’s “Joyland” is winning accolades, beginning with an award-winning debut at Cannes to earning a place on the Oscars’ international feature shortlist and after some hiccups, released at home in Pakistan.

“Whether it’s ‘Joyland,’ whether it’s ‘Maula Jatt,’ the people at the helm of these projects are passionate. They have stories to tell and they are visionaries,” said Khan. “We need more directors, more storytellers, who are telling stories from the heart. The other thing we really, really need is that I would like to see our government supporting our industry. And this year, we saw that happen.” Earlier this year, the Pakistani government recognized films as an industry, announced a film fund and major tax exemptions.

“The cinemas will be opening up and films like ‘Maula Jatt’ have doubled, tripled, quadrupled the footfalls, which weren’t coming in. These may be small, little steps, but they are eventually going to be really, really big steps,” Khan said. “Netflix and Amazon – I believe they need to come in now because we have amazing content. But before that happens, we can actually put out as many films as possible, even the smaller ones. We don’t have a digital outlet yet. So we can still do that business and we can still put out those smaller films.”

Khan has turned producer alongside Nina Kashif via their Soul Fry Films with “Aik Hai Nigar,” a TV film based on the Pakistan Army’s General Nigar, the first Muslim female army General in South Asia; and cricket-themed series “Baarwan Khiladi.”

Next up for Khan as an actor is “Neelofar,” a love story where she plays a blind woman, which reunites her with her “The Legend of Maula Jatt” co-star Fawad Khan, who also produces.

Like Fawad Khan, who had a successful career across the border in India, in Bollywood, Mahira Khan also tasted success with “Raees” (2017) alongside superstar Shah Rukh Khan. However, rising political tensions between India and Pakistan led to Pakistani actors and musicians being banned from working in India.

“I had the most amazing time working in India. I am still in touch with so many people and there’s a lot of love there. Unfortunately, we are easy targets, soft targets, whether it’s us here in Pakistan, whether it’s them there in India,” said Mahira Khan. “Because we’re artists, and we’re connected by that thread of art, we actually get each other. So we’re trying to look out for each other, more than anything. Even now, we are so careful with what we write on social media. It’s not that we don’t talk to each other. It’s not that we don’t wish each other on our birthdays. It’s not that we don’t meet each other in different countries. It’s not that – it’s just that we are actually not just protecting ourselves but protecting each other.”

“Unfortunately, it’s politics, it’s not a personal thing. On both ends, until the time that scapegoats are needed, we will always be that,” Khan added. “But let’s say that it gets better. Let’s say that there is someone in power who does not use us as easy targets. That would be lovely. Can you just imagine the collaboration? It would be lovely.”

Mahira Khan is exclusively represented by Hamid Hussain and Muhammad Yaqoob at Action Consultancy.

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