Ugh, I hate this! Stupid movie theater scheduling means I could only see it once and now my memory is rapidly fading in terms of exact details (thank goodness I took notes so I’m not totally at sea). I’m gonna try to finish the whole thing with minimal reveries on the meaning of that one shadow in the corner or whatever.
I ended at the center of the film, not necessarily the middle but the center. Mahira starts it, singing about how this is a legend, Fawad joins in, and then we see the other main characters facing the camera and singing as well. A beautiful moment saying “yes, this is a story, but stories also matter, stories last for a reason”.
And then we are back to normal. And here is where I have to rely on my notes for what happens next and in what order. The Big Bad is released from jail, with the blessing of his jailer, who is wearing jewels and fine silks, the only character in the film who does. This is the brief vision of the true Powers in this country, the rich royals who are mostly hands off with these fights between families and villages. And the thing is, they don’t matter. What matters is life and death and land and all the things we see happening in this film among all the people who don’t have silks or jewels.
The Big Bad is going home because his brother is dead and he must avenge him. Meanwhile, back in the village, Big Village Convo about “what to do with Fawad?” And once again STUPID VILLAGERS. This falls in with the whole “no one has silks and jewels” issue. The villagers are acting like there is some greater authority who will reward them, like someone else is gonna leap in and solve the problem. But, there is no one else. If the villagers want things to change for the better, they have to risk things changing for the worse.
That’s Fawad’s point, he argues that no one is DOING anything, even when the dancing girl was taken (nice that she comes back and we get confirmation that she was from their village) no one talked about it or did anything. Counterpoint, the villagers argue that things were “fine” and all they have to do is ask for forgiveness from the Natt’s and things will go back to being “fine”. Fawad and his foster brother are both furious and don’t agree, but Mom lays down the law. Stupid Mom. And for her sake, Fawad agrees to at least try going to the Natt’s and apologizing.
I think we are supposed to read this as a tragic error. I mean, of course it won’t work! And even if it did work, the best they could hope for is going back to having women kidnapped and bar owners forced to pay protection money and all the rest of it. Fawad is doing it for the sake of the villagers and his mother, respecting the rule of the majority even when he knows it is wrong.
This is a typical hero story on the surface, Prince in Hiding, blah blah. But it is different because I don’t think the film is saying Fawad is “better” than the villagers. His foster brother is as brave as he is, his girlfriend is Mahira, it’s all village. And he loves his foster mother. I think the film is just saying that Fawad was born with a martial spirit that is unusual, and which he shared with his biological father. If the same could be true of any of these villagers, and could just as easily NOT have been true of Fawad. His foster mother hoped that he would choose a happy peaceful life, would not throw himself in front of violence. This movie isn’t supporting the idea of a “royal” family, more individual personality and so on.
Oh, and I just realized I missed a SUPER important scene!!!! I think it was maybe before Fawad learned his real identity? Anyway, he is doing another fight, and once again getting drunk in the dressing room beforehand. He comes out Very drunk and his brother asks to cancel the fight. But the promoter is angry with Fawad for being drunk, and his opponents who he usually defeats are mad at him and start beating on him. We see the crowd in some distress, but it is only Mahira and his foster brother who really seem to care. His brother offers all the money in bets to the promoter in return for canceling the fight, and finally leaps into the ring to lean over and protect his brother from the blows of others, grabbing up a staff to swing it wildly around until the other fighters back off more in response to his unpredictability than landing blows. The foster brother picks Fawad up in his arms and staggeringly carries him out of the ring as Mahira leads the crowd in a cheer for him. So again, Fawad is no better, in his essence, than anyone else. He is just less afraid, more able to access his fighting instincts.
Right, in this scene Fawad bows to the majority and goes off to apologize to the Natts for humiliating their son. And of course, while he is gone is when the Big Bad arrives in town demanding to know who humiliated his brother. And Foster Brother, foolishly, lies and claims it was him. It’s one of those classic moments of foolishness that turns into bravery as it continues. Once Foster Brother realizes that these people are serious, he sticks with the lie to the end, protecting his brother as best he can. His second moment of Great Bravery inspired by Great Love. So much better than stupid Mom and the other stupid villagers.
Meanwhile, Fawad is meeting the Natt sister. Super cool scene. He arrives, all disheveled and messy, and she is standing in the grey stone courtyard in perfectly full black. At first there is a bit of cross talk with the sister assuming Fawad can’t be Maula Jatt, can’t be the one who humiliated her brother, because he is so humble and messy looking. And there is that frisson of attraction, this realization that they are the opposite of each other. It’s a great scene and for just a second it made me want Fawad to forget Mahira and go with the princess. But of course he doesn’t, because he is Noble. And then he goes home just in time to see the mass funeral for his brother and the other men Big Bad Brother killed.
The movie goes lke a frieght train after this. I’m gonna quickly summarize all of it just to get it down and then go back and talk about the bits that are interesting. The Natts are celebrating as the Big Bad Brother returns, and the family drags out the poor kidnapped village girl to dance for them. We saw her once before this, being forced to smoke drugs with Little Bad Brother, so we knew they were keeping her around. But this scene is lovely, dancing her heart out and remembering when she used to dance for joy and not because she was forced. Until she turns and is the first to see Fawad arrive.
Big fight, Big Bad brother orders everyone else to stand back so he can fight Fawad one on one, and then his own father (Sarkar of the Natt clan) hits Fawad on the head. Big Bad Brother screams in anger and immediately kills his own father because of the dishonor of not believing he could win his own battle. At his father’s funeral, Big Bad Brother puts the Sarkar turban on his sister, making her the leader.Fawad wakes up in prison, where the Big Bad threatens him and tells him he will fatten him up and make him healthy so they can fight again. Then the sister comes downstairs to ask him to have sex with her and make her pregnant so she could have the Most Powerful Baby Ever, mixture of Jatt and Natt. Fawad rejects her forcefully and she declares she will have him killed. And then Fawad is pulled from the prison by the family of the rival Natt, the one who Evil Sister beheaded. On the way in to rescue him, they kill the sister, making Big Bad Brother think it is Fawad who killed her and making him insanely angry. Fawad is released by the rival family just as Big Bad Brother leads an attack on his village, burning and capturing everyone. He is met by his foster mother and the young boy of the bar who he told to stop being afraid. And his foster mother admits she was wrong, that someone has to stand up and fight, and gives permission to Fawad to fight. FINALLY.
The finale takes place in the wrestling ring in the center of the village carnival, after Fawad saw Mahira tied up outside and she ordered him to fight for the villagers’ lives and her Honor. But significantly, not her “Sharam” honor, but rather her “Izzat”. She isn’t asking to be saved from some sort of sexual shame, but from a more general moral pride in her status. Fawad and Big Bad fight and fight, and he wins (duh) and then comes out to free Mahira and hold her close. Happy Ending!
Okay, here are the interesting bits! Big Bad really is just SUCH an interesting character. I can see why he was the first one cast, and the actor pushed so hard for the movie to be made. When he kills Foster Brother, Mom is begging for mercy. And he says, with real regret, “I wish I was capable of mercy”. He is a man with a very clear firm nature, with rules, and with no capability of a gentler nature. Except for his sister. When his father hits Fawad from behind, he immediately kills him. Because he only sees the dishonor of another man interfering in his fight, not the love that inspired his father or any of those shades of grey. It is that same clear vision that made him save his sister’s life as a child (because why throw away a baby? That’s not logical) and make her Sarkar instead of himself, because she is the obvious choice. It is only at his sister’s death that he loses the ability to see his way through, to find the proper thing to do.
And then there is Sister. She asks Fawad for his baby not because she loves him, or even desires him, but because she needs an heir. At her father’s funeral she seems legitimately shaken both by his death, and by Big Bad making her Sarkar. She has the clear logic of her brother, the ruthlessness, but it is tempered by an ability to feel emotions. They are a perfect pair, if they had lived she would have made a great leader and he would have made an endlessly loyal follower.
The final thing that is fascinating is Fawad and Mahira. The movie chooses to end with them. It is Mahira who orders him to defend her honor, and when he returns in triumph, he embraces her as his partner. And in before we see Fawad reject a princess for her, we see Mahira declare she will follow him even to the stars, she leads the villagers in cheers when Fawad is saved by his foster brother, we see Fawad go to her as soon as he has made his peace with his identity and embrace her back in the first half of the film.
Is the parallel this film is trying to draw Fawad and Mahira versus Big Bad Brother and Evil Sister? With Foster Brother and Small Bad Brother, and Evil Natt Father and Foster Mother completing the balance? Fawad may be Maula Jatt, may be a son destined for greatness like his father, but village girl Mahira is his equal. This is a society of merit, and Fawad and Mahira are a pair because they deserve each other, as much as Big Bad Brother and Sister are a pair because they are from the same family.
Going to speak from feelings for a moment: I loved the character of Noori Natt, Hamza Ali Abbasi was delicious to watch and he gave us a nicely gray villain for most of the movie – he saved his sister as a baby, her executioner was his first kill, and he locked himself in prison for years because he was searching for someone strong enough to stand up to him (implication that he would have been a monster if he were free to roam because he was so powerful, and we see in the scene where he kills the foster brother Mooda that killing people weaker than him makes him sad and ashamed). I see this as a movie relentlessly driven by the wheels of plot more than character, so Noori had to kill Maula’s brother to even the score and the revenge motive, and he had to kill his own father because all of those gray tones had made our villain too sympathetic – he has to die in the end, and the hero has to be just, so a little patricide sets that up efficiently.
I also loved Daro, Humaima Malik was gorgeous and convincing as a strong but evil woman loyal only to her big brother.
I usually love parents but the mother character was my least favorite – maybe up there with Fawad’s Humsafar mother as most terrible mom? The old sardar father was nicely played but completely a type within the plot.
I agree with part of your point about strong women characters and relationships based on merit rather than class. I still see the patriarchy at work, though, in the fact that the defiled village girl has to die rather than be rescued because she’s already been ruined (my interpretation not based on text but why else would she get a spear through the belly from the sardar himself? so symbolic). And the fact that Daro had to die immediately after being crowned. Like I don’t think she even made it 24 hours as sardar.
Mahira’s character is the only female lead who escapes the archetypal role and/or ending. She does remain virtuous, if not for lack of trying. What do you think of her first speech about Maula including the pledge to have his babies? Does that make them default married by movie logic? And is the justice that you get to be a strong woman and live so long as you don’t get defiled and you don’t seek to put yourself above men? This was my only quibble, I did enjoy the movie a ton and I did love that the women had full, powerful characters to inhabit, even if this is obviously not the story or film that would pass the Bechdel test.
It is interesting to think how Mahira and Humaima’s characters parallel one another. Maybe something about the nature of their loyalty? When Daro goes to see Maula in the dungeon, is that a betrayal of her brother? I read it as she was scared by Noori’s actions crowning her sardar after murdering their father, and she was offering Maula not just strong fighting babies but a chance to rule at her side, partly as self preservation. Whereas Makhoo never wavers, even when Maula is at his drunkest and mist useless, or when he’s been cast out by the stupid villagers.
I loved seeing Mahira do her thing. It was fabulous to see her and Fawad facing off against each other again. And Fawad was the one who most consistently made me just melt with happiness to be there watching. He’s reached that stage where he can be subtle but still come through as tremendously sexy or tragic or scary. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, especially on the big screen.
One thing the movie maybe could have hit harder was that the Natt family was corrupt from the inside. No matter who was leading, their structure was based on intimidation and protection rackets and Bad Things. While the Jatt family (based on the little we learned from Old Staff Dude) was about justice and protecting the people. Neither Daro nor Noori seem interested in rape and kidnap and hurting people, but they also don’t seem interested in Reform. No matter who is at the head of the Natts, so long as they are living in this fort and sending teams out to hurt villagers, they are Bad.
I could argue for a reading of the Defiled Village Girl that it is less about the Defilement and more about the loss of her fiance, and the betrayal of the people who did not defend her. Not saying that is the intended interpretation, but at least they put those points in so we know her misery is about more than just “defilement”. And I think we are supposed to see Mahira as 100% “defiled” by Maula. That is, they did not have a “nothing until marriage” kind of relationship and desires, and the movie was totally fine with that. In a different film Mahira would have been the fun village girl, and then he would have moved on to a Pure wife. But this movie said no, she’s gonna be his Wife too.
Maybe Daro versus Mahira is about the freedom of different classes? Daro is a “princess” in many ways, so she is expected to have an arranged marriage for treaty purposes, or else choose between her two brothers as protectors. Mahira can pick any man in the village to be with, or no man at all. Daro is trapped by her limited life choices, while Mahira sees the virtue within Maula and chooses to put her loyalty and faith in him.
Glad you agree that Mom and Villagers are both USELESS.