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The Legend of Sultan Rahi – Aggressive, violent masculinity!


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.





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7 commentaires


A very insightful and interesting read! it is imperative to contextualize and look into the root cause to understand the current patterns and trends in Pakistani movie. the influence of politics and how it is used as a platform to promote one's party as you stated with the example of awami party, i believe was as essential matter to highlight as the two-go hand in hand.

building upon the promotion of a certain type and concept of the ideal man being promoted i believe has remained somewhat stationery and uniform throughout the cinemas. Be it maula jhat in the 70's or any other contemporary roles. the idea of a strong, aggressive, straightforward continues to be reinforced particularly that of the…

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Agreed! In contemporary films we do see this sort of a shift perhaps, with heroes perhaps less violent. But I still think that in most movies the villains still conform to ideas like a muscular body, tall, and there are scenes (unnecessary ones at times!) where the hero must fight a few punches to finally reach the climax of the film!

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Mubashir Mémon
Mubashir Mémon
05 juin 2023

Enjoyed the read! The intricate inter-textuality and key ideas discussed in this blog post bring to the forefront the complex dynamics between media, gender, and societal perceptions. Sultan Rahi's character in Maula Jatt epitomizes a specific brand of aggressive masculinity that has captivated audiences for decades. His portrayal embodies the construction of gender roles and the influence of media in perpetuating certain ideals. The character's intimidating physical presence, combative nature, and aggressive demeanour symbolize a stereotypical representation of masculinity that has been glorified in Pakistani cinema and still continues to be present in current drama serials, such as the character of Murtasim in Tere Bin.


His domineering nature, controlling behaviour, and propensity for violence are portrayed as traits of a…

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Absolutely! Rahi got super popular for his films and it wasn't just the violence he was perpetuating. In many ways, Rahi was different from Indian or Hollywood heroes. He was a Punjabi hero who would fight in a lungi and a kurta. He embodied this idea of "cultural representation," (or so the people thought) and this is why his success was different than the others. Young men could relate to him and the villages and the problems he was situated in, and they would think that if it is justified for Rahi to behave in this way, so is it justified for them to do so too!

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Such an insightful and informative read! I watched maula jatt a few months ago but I didn’t know a lot about its historical lineage. I feel that the recurring trend of aggressive male characters in Pakistani cinemaI in general, and the punjabi context in particular, can be attributed to cultural expectations surrounding masculinity in our society alongside popular and widely held beliefs related to what makes up a “real man”.

Secondly I think that the aggressive and violent portrayal of hyper-masculinity in Sultan Rahi's role in maula jatt can also be analysed through the intersection between Jatt caste and gender. (In line w the concept of intersectionality like we discussed in class) Since the film revolved around power dynamics, revenge,…

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Absolutely agree with the caste point! And Maula Jatt was not just showcasing the power dynamics of the Jatts but also of the villain Nat caste. It's interesting because the Nat's are shown as villains when in fact they are a caste associated with people who don't have a lot of land and Nat is considered to be generally of caste of the poor. Showcasing them as villains and doing so by posing all Nats as the "bad people" itself says a lot about representation and how the caste element was used within Maula Jatt!

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The idea of an action scene being so essential to a movie, even where it is completely unnecessary shows how aggression in men and the whole 'fighting to defend a woman's honor or prove that theyre worth the hand of the woman' is such a backward concept that is still prevalent today.

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