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The curious case of Maula Jatt



Maula Jatt stands as a monopoly breaker for Pakistani cinema at its time, one of the finest and most popular productions of Pakistani cinemas. It was seen as the biggest box office collection and savior for our film industries in the 1980s. However, during General Zia’s regime, it was immediately banned at first and then later unbanned for its uncanny and extraordinary outcome. Gen Zia’s regime was known for its draconian laws and cultural censorship in social, educational, and political aspects. The film industry had been one of the most affected arenas of the time.

Although Maula Jatt has been credited for its stage-wrecking performance and impact as a pathway for Punjabi cinema and culture, what most of us fail to recognize is the remarkable symbolism and metaphors that Sarwar Bhatti implies alongside the movie. It is described as it’s an intelligent exercise in commercial filmmaking, studded with some excellent performances, thoughtful plotting, imaginative direction, and sharp, snappy dialogue.” In dawn.

Maula Jatt, during the regime, stood as an artistic call for a revolution against the said dictatorship under Gen Zia. The film starts with ‘bismillah hirrehamnir rahim’, perhaps satirically mimicking the pseudo-religious regime that Zia had created. Throughout the film, the ability and strength of a protagonist to naturally win this war of good and bad is starkly depicted. The film characterizes Rahi’s (Jatt) as a civilian belonging to a lower middle-class family of a rural village standing up to Qureshi’s (Nuri) who stands as an undefeatable authority, perhaps, Zia. The movie subtly implies the police and governmental, institutional support in favor of Nuri who is the bad guy in the movie, while Rahi has the people’s vote and eventually defeats Nuri. Interestingly, a rising proletariat in those times (Bhutto) had a similar agenda and style while rising to fame, his roti, kapra, makaan slogan and his speeches for his ‘logon’ were a glimpse seen in Maula Jatt.


 

Does this cinematic expression impacts education?

My point here is that the role of education is complicated and distinguished in this setting. Here, we are not sitting in a classroom learning about numbers and grammar through a colonizer lens. But, we are consuming media, entertainment through informal sources of education which one may take up for peacebuilding or violence. Zia banning the movie, or the censor boards strict restrictions on the language and depiction of the characters was not entirely in good faith for the audience, if it were the case the movie may never have been released in the first place. However, the misinterpretation of the theme and creating a controversy and hype around it distracted the audience from what Bhatti expected express. In my opinion, if the conversations and discussions exploring the unsaid metaphor were more prominent, perhaps the consequence could have been more fruitful less sadistically violent? Maybe if there was an opportunity to educate masses rather than restricting it completely; appreciation for what it was rather than banning it completely; perhaps then the undefeatable consequences of the violent patriarch hidden in every Pakistani man would have been less apparent, but a need to stand up against the oppressors rather than the oppressed would’ve been more prominent.


Thank you!

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Faizan Qureshi
Faizan Qureshi
Jul 06, 2022

Loved your take on Maula Jaatt and how it impacted the citizens of Pakistan. I think in recent times, Shehri Pakistan are doing an amazing job in using online animations in Urdu to provide accessible civic education and constitutional legal literacy to a common man. When a vast majority of one's population is unable to access the relevant resources, vocabulary, sociocultural context to comprehend the fundamentals of human rights and democracy, it is important to educate them in a way that is palatable for them. Would highly recommend you to watch their works, SWIPE and Shere-e-Tabassum, to get to know more about their works.

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This brings to light the important conversation of censorship in countries like Pakistan. Today the film industry of Pakistan suffers greatly, party due to the fact that most movies concerning important and significant topics are banned. either it is because they highlight some of the problematic political issues of the country or they talk about topics that are too 'extreme'. movies are also a huge source of education and this problem needs to be addressed because people will stay ignorant to issues when they are constantly being censored and hidden.

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Exactly. the problem entails. unfortunately not only censorship is political but religious views are also censored for example movies like zindagi tamasha or javed iqbal (talks about 1971 events) and the cycle continues. This hindrance in educational possibility too creates a barrier between the many narratives us pakistanis never get to hear. but i often ponder, if we are exposed to the many hostilities of our very institutions on communities we easily antagonize would pakistan's identity and unity be compromised?

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I haven’t seen Maula Jatt so reading about the political aspect of the film was fascinating! This reminded me of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin which similarly but also more explicitly called for an uprising by the masses against the authorities. Eisenstein quite violently and openly showed the oppression of innocent civilians at the hands of the government’s men. It was banned in countries all over such as America and France and Russia itself because the officials didn’t want their own people to get inspired by the rebellion in the movie and try to imitate it for their freedom. It’s amazing how certain cultures (such as our own) frown upon the arts for being “useless” and “frivolous” yet they have so…

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Thank you Mariam for sharing this. I believe art itself whether through cinema, writings (Faiz Ahmed Faiz's beautiful poetry has also played a unique and stark role in the politics of Pakistan) and other forms do carefully and peacefully call for revolution. They are one of the most effective and peaceful mediums through not only unite people to hold authorities accountable but to have a voice which is most times silenced and censored.

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