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From yak hair beards to designer dhotis: An insider’s look at the styling in The Legend of Maula Jatt

A lot of detail went into creating the costumes and makeup for the movie and its star cast.
Published 10 Oct, 2022 03:52pm

The shoot was lit up with torches. A heavy crane perched high in the sky shone a light down on to the set of The Legend of Maula Jatt, giving the illusion of moonlight. The cast consisted of some of Pakistan’s top stars as well as a myriad of extras, all dressed in costumes that were a throwback to a long-ago time in which Bilal Lashari’s fantastical escapist tale of good versus bad unfolds. At some points, stylist Aabroo Hashmi would step in and splash synthetic blood on to the cast. And right before the camera would roll, the cast’s feet and hands would be ‘dirtied’, the nails caked with mud so that they looked the part.

There was a time when producer Ammara Hikmat frantically tried to locate a dentist. Actor Gohar Rasheed had lost the gold tooth casing that he wore for his character Maakha Natt and a replacement was needed urgently for the shoot to continue!

TLoMJ has taken its time to makes its way to cinemas — at least six years since the movie was first conceptualised — but now that the release date is merely days away, I am getting the chance to hear some very riveting behind-the-scenes stories. The trailer and promotional posters have offered glimpses of a movie that promises to be high on visuals and styling. Director Lashari is touted to have had incorporated an impressive range of special effects. The movie’s infamous star cast looks transformed in their on-screen avatars. Evidently, their transformations were the fruition of days of research and quite a bit of expenditure.

“We had worked with Bilal Lashari before and he used to mention that when he made his next movie, he’d take us on board,” says stylist Maram Azmat, one half of the Maram Aabroo duo responsible for the spectacular styling of TLoMJ’s characters. “Around the end of 2015, we started working with him on TLoMJ. He asked us to do research and we would spend hours brainstorming with him.”

Yak hair and splashes of blood

The scale and creative freedom that TLoMJ would allow them excited Maram Aabroo to the extent that they went an extra mile to ensure that their work looked authentic. Aabroo took a course in wig-making at Pinewood Studios in London. They also randomly reached out via social media to Brian Sipe, a prosthetic and makeup artist who worked frequently with Marvel Studios. To their surprise, he responded. “He gave us online crash courses and spent hours explaining to us how to go about creating the looks that we had envisioned,” recalls Maram. “He was very worried that we wouldn’t be able to do things correctly and even invited us to physically visit the Star Wars set where he was working at that time.”

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that!” says Aabroo. “But Brian has designed his own prosthetics line and among other things, it allows you to recreate bruising, scars and blood. Eventually, we placed orders with him for his products. We bought different sets for different actors. Ammara invested heavily into ensuring that the characters’ styling was at par with Hollywood standards!”

Wigs were created for each character and since they were very expensive, they were safeguarded with great effort. “I learnt wig-making especially for this movie,” says Aabroo, “and I went to great lengths to customise wigs for each character. I specially travelled to Karachi to create moulds of Hamza and Gohar’s heads and faces, wrapping their faces and marking the hairline and beard line. The wigs were so expensive that they had to be taken off very gently.”

 Gohar Rasheed
Gohar Rasheed

The characters’ beards offered their own challenges, structured from yak hair that had to be stuck together hair by hair. “Basically, you had to hold the hair in your hand, trim it to size and then apply it to the face,” describes Aabroo. “There were times when we would go through about three hours getting the actor ready and it would start raining and shooting would get cancelled. It was exhausting!”

And then, they ran out of yak hair. “I asked one of my husband’s friends who was the Assistant Commissioner of Hunza at the time to send us some hair and he sent us a huge unprocessed bundle, sheared fresh off the yaks!” laughs Maram. “We had to clean it, treat it, dye it — it was a once in a lifetime experience!”

 Hamza Ali Abbasi
Hamza Ali Abbasi

Did it stink? “Oh yes, it certainly did!” confirms Maram.

Aabroo was the official blood thrower on set — but she didn’t just simply splash faux blood wherever she pleased. “The angle at which they had been hurt had to be figured out and I would splash the blood there,” she says.

Before the camera would roll, actors would be ‘dirtied down’, with their nails, hands, neck and even feet caked with dirt. “We didn’t know what angle the camera would be shooting at so we just made sure that the actor was dirtied all over,” says Maram.

Makeup had to be realistic and unconventional. Eye-bags and kajal were added to make Hamza Ali Abbasi’s Noori Natt look suitably menacing. Humaima Malik’s villainous Daaro was given what Maram describes as a ‘slightly goth’ look. “Her hair was pitch black and completely straight and she had kajal in her eyes. We didn’t apply blush to her face because we wanted her to look pale with her blue veins showing.”

 Humaima Malik
Humaima Malik

Fawad Khan as the heroic Maula has to look good but rustic. Being a street fighter with not much money, he was particularly dirtied down extensively. His leading lady Mahira Khan aka Mukho had braided hair in order to retain a ‘playful’ look, according to Maram.

Of dhotis and gauntlets

Beyond the hair and makeup, the responsibilities for wardrobe were handed over to designers Fahad Hussayn and Zara Shahjahan for the male and female characters respectively. “The movie is framed in a time at which there were no stitched [clothes] and people would generally use draped cloth,” observes Hussayn. “I couldn’t do that so I created very baggy, uncomplicated silhouettes, hand-hemmed with minimal stitches so that they had a rough, unprocessed look.”

 Fawad Khan
Fawad Khan

Also, in an effort to make the wardrobe authentic, Hussayn utilised organic fabrics, colouring them with natural dyes. “I did all these experiments in texturisation,” he says. “Bilal was very particular about the colours that he wanted to see on screen. He would sit in my studio and make me dye something 20 times until he was able to see the ‘dark green’ or ‘very dark blue’ that he had in mind. When I stood behind him, watching the screen of his shoot, I would understand why he had wanted something a particular way.”

 The Natts
The Natts

The evil, affluent Natts wore rich, dark colours. Their outfits were accessorised with belts, swords, money bags and extra gauntlets, all created by Hussayn. Gohar’s Maakha Natt, possibly the movie’s most flamboyant character, even had strings of taaweez wound down the length of his arm.

 Faris Shafi
Faris Shafi

Faris Shafi’s Mooda, Maula’s best friend, wore bright colours with some embroideries in order to depict his colourful personality. “He isn’t rich, though, so his accessories and clothes aren’t too elaborate,” points out Hussayn.

Maula wore dark tones except in the romantic scenes where he will be seen wearing lighter colours. The colour palette of the villagers that form the backdrop — Hussayn estimates that sometimes there were as many as 300 extras on set — was mostly earthy.

 Maula and Mukho
Maula and Mukho

A turban-tying team enlisted by Hussayn had the daunting task of hand-tying every character’s turban, from the extras to the main cast. “Back then, turbans were only hand-tied. We couldn’t have it any other way,” says the designer.

On the other end of the spectrum, Zara Shahjahan followed her vision for the female characters. The designer recalls long brainstorming sessions with Lashari — evidently, the conceptualisation of TLoMJ was a longwinded tedious journey in itself. “The character development was as important as the clothes,” she says. “I took inspiration from the Urdu fantasy tales of my childhood. Humaima was evil, she had long hair and wore luxurious clothes. For her, I chose silks and satins. There are some scenes in which she wears a fitted satin shirt with a dhoti, as a homage to Punjabi film sirens,” she explains.

“For Mahira, I chose simple earthy colours. Her clothes were fashioned from khaddar and malmal and paired with traditional dupattas. Her hair was braided and she even had slight freckles,” describes the designer.

 Mahira Khan
Mahira Khan

Was it also a concern that the actors, all powerful names in Pakistani entertainment, look good even while being in costume? “There was, initially, but slowly, we all warmed to the idea of just making the movie look as authentic as possible,” says Maram.

There was a lot of hard work and thought invested into a single movie — perhaps much more than is usually put into conventional cinema fare. Then again, TLoMJ does seem to be the sort of movie that is borne out of passion more than anything else. The effort shows in the trailer and the promotional posters — it is hoped that it will be even more dazzling on the cinema screen.