Even if you're not a Pakistani cinema follower, you most definitely know of Maula Jatt from its 2022 remake with Fawad Khan. What you may or may not know, however, was that the star of the first Maula Jatt was Sultan Rahi - a popular Punjabi film star who rose to great heights in the 1970s. Many superstars in Pakistani cinema have reached recognition but few have been able to reach the title of “cinematic legend.”
What Sultan Rahi brought to the big screen, however, was interesting. Steering away from the slim, tall, fair, and suited male lead in earlier films, Rahi brought male characters in desi ‘lungis’ that were muscular and with darker complexions. Where one could argue that it did step away from other characteristics that were deemed necessary for someone to be a male lead, Rahi brought with him other problematic ideal types of a ‘heroic’ male.
Prevailing violence and aggression, Rahi’s films fantasized a man always ready for combat, is easily angered, and has what is known as a ‘savior complex.’
This was a time when the PPP government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was using its “awami” party title to assure the masses that the government was on their side. And as Gazdar beautifully points out,
“Sultan Rahi was the embodiment of all that the common man was waiting for – a robust, candid, and straightforward man, attired in kurta and lungi, ever ready to fight against all forms of social evil.”
Films like Babul, Bashira, Maula Jat among others allowed young men to deem Rahi’s aggressive characters as models to follow. In many ways the aggression was directed toward the years of suffering and helplessness that people had towards the state and Rahi's films provided a way to release this aggression. Young men would boost their egos and learn ways to showcase their masculinity “as in their culture,” watching Rahi kick, shoot, and punch others on the big screen.
The shift these films brought within Pakistani cinema was significant. If not all, most modern-day Pakistani films that do well have unnecessary fight scenes that crown the hero of heroism. Shifts within cinemas are impactful and continue to show results decades later and the stamp of masculinity that was brought within the films of Sultan Rahi can still be witnessed, especially within Pakistani Punjabi cinema. One can simply guess the impact it has on the young audience romanticizing such heroes.