When one talks of immortal love stories, one naturally thinks of Laila Majnu. The duo of Laila and Majnu have became immortalized in stories, ballads and films down the ages, very much like Romeo and Juliet, Shirin Farhad or Sohni Mahiwal. In Hindi films, the legend of Laila Majnu was first recreated in 1953 by director K Amarnath, with Shammi Kapoor and Nutan. Laila and Majnu's was a love which went beyond the mere physical, defied all reason and logic and was akin almost to the love of the divine. Legend has it that Laila was not beautiful in the conventional sense, but to Majnu's eyes, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. In keeping with the tradition of love, the path of lovers never did run smooth. Their love, hinging almost on the verge of madness, defied all norms, traditions, and hence met with tremendous opposition from the powers that be. Unfortunately, true love like Laila Majnu's never had a happy ending as we know it today. It was not like in the best of filmi traditions - lovers walking into the sunset together. Laila and Majnu were never given that option, perhaps one of the many reasons why their love became immortal. Even in death, they stayed true to their love.
HS Rawail's cinematic version of this moving tale of the original star-crossed lovers, Laila Majnu, starring Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta, does full justice to this enduring tale. It has the intense pangs of love, the painful obstacles that lie in its path and a soul-stirring performance by its lead actors as they bring Laila and Majnu alive. The icing on the cake, literally, is the amazing musical score which was composed by the late maestro Madan Mohan, who is believed to have died before completing the film, and hence the baton was carried forward by Jaidev, seamlessly.
To recount the story, Laila and her lover Majnu, better known as Qais, were born to rival clans, the Amaris and the Sharwaris. The two loved each other as children. Their love was such that if one was hurt, the other started bleeding. The film recounts, how as kids at the madarsa, the maulvi asks them to write the name of Allah on their slates. Qais, who is lost in thoughts of Laila, inscribes her name instead. In return, an incensed maulvi canes him on the hand. But it is Laila's hand which starts bleeding. Incidents such as this, spread like wild fire and Laila's father, scared for his daughter's reputation, decides to stop her from going to school. The two clan heads decide to separate their children as it is impossible for them to conceive of the Sharwaris and the Amaris ever being joined by love instead of blood. Lalila and her Majnu grow up in different places.
Many years later, Qais and his friends visit Laila's town to buy horses and the stage is set for the two lovers to meet again. One day at the marketplace, they encounter each other and it is love at first sight for both of them. They start meeting each other secretly, all over again. But the villain makes his entry in the form of Laila's hot-tempered brother Tabrez (Ranjeet). He has already had a spat with Qais, with neither knowing the other's true identity. In the turn of events that follow, Qais's father dies at the hands of Tabrez. Qais in turn, avenges his father's murder by killing Tabrez. He is exiled from the town and wanders about in the dunes, like a madman, thirsting for just a look of his beloved. Meanwhile, Laila is married off to a prince, Bakhsh (Danny). Learning of her love for Qais, he promises to keep his distance till such time that he is not able to replace Majnu in Laila's heart. Like all others before him, he is unable to understand the almost divinely ordained love of Laila and Majnu. When he does, it is too late.
The lovers die but the legend lives on. Laila and Majnu's story, as recreated by Rawail, is powerful enough to stir and sweep you along with the cascading emotions of the two lovers and their ill-fated love story. Actor Rishi Kapoor who made the lover image his own in the Seventies, is perhaps the best choice that one can think of, for the role of Majnu. He breathes life into the character of Majnu and manages to make his agony so much more palpable and real. Debutant Ranjeeta, gets a dream role as Qais's Laila. She has never looked better on screen and is apt in the role of Laila. She manages to capture the innocence and purity of the legendary character. The other members of the cast like Danny, Iftekar, Ranjeet, Raza Murad, Achla Sachdev and Aruna Irani, all put in very competent performances and provide good support to the lead pair. It is no easy task to portray a love like Laila Majnu's and make it plausible in today's fast-track life. Rawail's Laila Majnu works because it manages to touch that chord in every human heart, which surely longs to love and be loved like Laila and Majnu. The film has been written beautifully by Abrar Alvi, a long time associate of the late Guru Dutt. The language is simple and yet poetic, a just vehicle for such a love story.
Music has been synonymous with love. And the late Madan Mohan and Jaidev recreate the romance in the songs of the film, all of which have been sung with so much passion and pathos by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi. Numbers like 'Husn Hazir Hai, Mohabbat Ki Sazaa Paane Ko', Barbad-e-Mohabbat Ki Dua Saath Liye Ja', or the more joyous and happier, 'Is Reshmi Pajeb Ki Jhankar Ke Sadke'; the defiant 'Ab Agar Humse Khuda Bhi Khafa Ho Jaaye' and 'Tere Dar Par Aaaya Hoon'. Each of the numbers has been created with so much love that it make true the adage, that 'music is the food of love,' and one wants to say, 'play on.' It is a masterly effort by these two giants of Hindi film music which really lifts this love story and puts it in its right context.
Rawail's Laila Majnu is truly a masterpiece, a paean to love. And in this month of romance, one would like to remember these eternal lovers, who re-wrote the definition of love and gave it an altogether different meaning.