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Updated: September 1, 2012 20:54 IST
BLAST FROM THE PAST

Laila majnu (1949)

M. L. Narasimham
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Poster of Laila Manju
Poster of Laila Manju

starring A. Nageswara Rao, P. Bhanumathi, C.S.R. Anjaneyulu, K. Sivarao, Mukkamala Krishnamurthy, Arani Satyanarayana, Sitaram, Jr. Sriranjani, Hemalatha Devi, Surabhi Balasaraswati, Vimala Devi, Master Chittibabu, Baby Krishnaveni

This romantic tale, set in the 12th century, originated from Arabian Nights classic literature and was later adapted and popularised by the Persian poet Nizami Gajnavi. Many imitations of his work surfaced subsequently. Notable among them was Hatefi’s version of Laila Majnu, which was published in Calcutta by Sir William Jones in the year 1788. It became an instant hit with its theatre adaptation. The first silent movie on this love story was made by filmmaker J. J. Madan in 1922 with H.B, Waring and J. Sherwin in title roles. Five years later another Laila Majnu movie was produced by Excelsior Film Co., starring Zubeida, Shehzadi and M. Vakil and directed by Manilal Joshi.

With his first film, Rathnamala, turning a box-office hit, studio owner and director Ramakrishna was on the look out for a suitable subject for Bharani’s next venture. Fascinated by the first Hindi talkie version of Laila Majnu (1945), which he had seen in Bombay, he made the choice. His production chief D.L. Narayana agreed with him. A projection of the Hindi version was arranged for his actress-wife Bhanumathi and Akkineni Nageswara Rao, whom he had thought of for the protagonist’s role. Samudrala Raghavacharya was assigned the job of writing the script and the dialogue.

Laila is the daughter of Ameer Sarvaar (played by Mukkamala Krishnamurthy), and Khais, the son of Ameer Umri (Arani Satyanarayana). Love blossoms between Laila and Khais as they grow up. Ameer Sarvaar, unable to dissuade his daughter from seeing Khais, shifts to Mecca. Khais follows her to Mecca and roams in the streets uttering her name. People take him to be a mad person (Majnu) and throw stones at him. The story takes a lot of twists and turns from here on. The King of Iraq (played by C.S. R. Anjaneyulu), who comes on a visit to Mecca, sees Laila and decides to marry her. Meanwhile, Ameer Umri pleads with his erstwhile friend Sarvaar to save his son. Sarvaar agrees to get his daughter married to Khais if it is proved that he is not mad. A test is conducted and Khais emerges successful. Just when the marriage is to be performed, Sarvaar receives a proposal from the King of Iraq that he wishes to marry Laila. Sarvaar changes his mind, and performs his daughter’s marriage with the King. Laila leaves for Iraq and Khais wanders aimlessly in the desert. The King already has a mistress Zareena (played by Jr. Sriranjani). On coming to know of Laila’s story, she tries to help her. Soon thereafter, the Prince too repents, calls Laila his sister and sends her back to Khais. The lovers are about to meet in the desert, but fate wills it otherwise and a heavy sandstorm takes its toll.

Bhanumathi, as Laila, essayed her role with ease and poise and her song renditions allured the audience. ANR, who till then had been playing the dashing folk hero, was apprehensive at first of portraying a tragic hero, but he succeeded, through his portrayal, in making the audience believe that Khais might have looked exactly like him. The romantic tragedy hero had arrived.

Ramakrishna was not only an able editor and director, but also an excellent technician and made it a technically savvy film. The sandstorm scene especially is worth mentioning. Instead of veteran cameraman Jiten Bennerjee, who cranked for Rathnamala, Ramakrishna took B.S. Ranga as the cameraman without even knowing how efficient his work was. Ranga who bagged this assignment thanks to his brother Garudachari, a close friend of Ramakrishna, proved his worth and it was the turning point in his future life and career. Besides excellent photography, sound designing (by V. Srinivasa Raghavan under whom later day’s popular director K. Viswanath worked as an assistant), the period sets created by art directors Goadgoankar and K. Nageswara Rao and C.R. Subburaman’s soul stirring music with ‘Preme neramouna…’ (rendered by Bhanumathi) the evergreen hit, ‘O Priyathama… Payanamaye Priyathama Nanu Marachipokuma…’ (rendered by Ghantasala) and the dance sequence featuring Lalitha and Padmini, contributed to the runaway success of Laila Majnu.

While the opulent palace, garden and other sets were put up in the floor, the desert set with a pond, palm trees (to resemble date trees found in deserts) and sand dunes were created in the open space between the studio and the recording theatre and the scenes were shot there during the nights for the right effect. The result of this entire effort was reflected in audience’s appreciation of the movie.

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