Fawad Khan on ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt,’ ‘Ms. Marvel’ and Bollywood (EXCLUSIVE)

The long awaited “The Legend of Maula Jatt,” starring Pakistani superstars Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan (no relation), is set to release theatrically worldwide on Oct. 13.

The Punjabi-language film, which is one of the biggest budgeted in the history of Pakistani cinema, is a reboot of Yunus Malik’s 1979 cult classic “Maula Jatt.” The film focuses on the legendary rivalry between local hero Maula Jatt and Noori Natt, the leader of a brutal gang. Director Bilal Lashari, whose debut feature “Waar” (2013) broke box office records in Pakistan, has reimagined the story for a global audience.

The original “Maula Jatt” was released before Fawad Khan was born and his exposure to it was limited as his family spent several years away from Pakistan at the time it was gaining cult status.

” ‘Maula Jatt’ always had a cult status in Pakistani media, and because of that, we’d obviously heard of it, and who had not heard of the dialog,” Khan told Variety. When Lashari approached Khan, it was with the idea of a remake and that’s when the actor watched the original properly. “The actors who made that film what it was – Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi – were very big veterans of the industry,” says Khan. “To take their acting as an influence for modern cinema may have been a bit out of context, and all respect to them, but we felt that these were very big shoes to fill, and therefore maybe we should attempt something.”

“The Legend of Maula Jatt” was finally designed as a reboot rather than a remake. Khan’s role, that of a prizefighter, demanded a lot of physicality but the team opted for a naturalistic body type for the actor based on the South Asian wrestling style Pehlwani.

“They’re not exactly Michelangelo’s sculptures of Greek gods, some of them are just like sumo wrestlers,” says Khan. “We decided that we’d actually go ahead and make a version which is not so sexy by modern standards and make something that’s more a bit off the wall and therefore weight gain came into the equation.”

Khan, who had a flourishing music career before breaking into Pakistani television with series “Jutt and Bond” (2001), made his film debut with the acclaimed “Khuda Kay Liye” (2007). Bollywood came calling and Khan became a star in that industry with lead roles in “Khoobsurat” (2014) and “Kapoor & Sons” (2016). However, rising political tensions between India and Pakistan led to Pakistani actors and musicians being banned from working in India and “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” (2016) was his last Bollywood film.

So, would Khan like to go back and work in Bollywood? “The collaboration with the people that I got to know and the kinds of people I was exposed to there was a great experience and I really enjoyed it. The political fallout [between India and Pakistan] has not influenced our relationships, but it’s definitely made us very wary of answering such a question,” said Khan. “It’s a good question but I can’t give a definitive answer until things stabilize and there are a lot of issues that need to be answered.”

“I hate confrontation, I really avoid it, and I don’t like it. And I don’t like controversy either,” says Khan. “I think it’s more of a question whether someone else would like to work with me, instead of me working with others, because fingers will be pointed at them. I’ll do my work and go away but then the people who’ll have to suffer are those who are who want to collaborate with me. And I care about that because they are going to live there, and they’re going to suffer the consequences.”

“Similarly, if I were to work [in India] and come back [to Pakistan], I’d have to suffer the consequences of what the people or the government or whatever bodies that are involved think about it,” said Khan. “But otherwise, I have a great relationship with the people that I’ve worked with and made great friends. I would love to see them again someday, and maybe work with them again. Whether it be for an international platform, a Pakistani platform, or for an Indian platform. Mainstream Bollywood is a different ballgame altogether.”

Khan also gained international prominence with series “Ms. Marvel,” where he appears in flashback as the lead character’s great-grandfather. The actor says that he made great friends on that set as well, particularly with the producers, but he doesn’t know if the series is returning for a second season or if his character will reappear. “I think the track of the character has ended and sometimes the shortest and the simplest things in life are the sweetest,” said Khan. “But I don’t know what Disney would think what they want to do in the future.”

Meanwhile, post “The Legend of Maula Jatt,” Khan has several projects lined up. “Neelofar,” a love story between a writer and a blind woman, also co-stars Mahira Khan and is co-produced by Fawad Khan, is complete and due a theatrical release in early 2023. Another film, action-comedy “Money Back Guarantee” is due a release in March 2023. Also coming up is “Barzakh,” for Zindagi, the Indian subcontinent focused programming block on streamer ZEE5 Global, directed by Asim Abbasi who also directed Zindagi’s first Pakistani original “Churails” and the feature film “Cake.”

“The Legend of Maula Jatt” is produced by Ammara Hikmat’s Encyclomedia and Lashari Films.

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