During moments of doubt, Qais (Avinash Tiwary) reassures Laila (Tripti Dimri), “ Humari kahaani likhi gayi hai (our story has already been written).” To her, he sounds like a lunatic or a romantic, one can’t be too sure by her reactions. But their story is one that’s definitely written — not only in Persian but in various other renditions over centuries. Sajid Ali, in his directorial debut, Laila Majnu, takes the classic drama of Layla and Majnun and situates it in modern-day Kashmir, where very little of the region’s volatility plays havoc in their lives but the root cause of melancholy and tragedy remains the age-old elusiveness of love. Despite its inconsequentiality in providing conflict to the film, Kashmir is arguable the best Indian setting for the Persian tale. There’s a sense of lyricism to the landscape and culture that’s irreplaceable but none of it rubs off on the two lovers as their romance builds up. That’s largely because the film is infested with so many cringeworthy clichés that the poetic appeal of the story is completely lost. The only thing that stands out as unusual is how Qais and Laila meet. He pees on her — go figure.
- Director: Sajid Ali
- Cast: Avinash Tiwary, Tripti Dimri, Parmeet Sethi, Sumeet Kaul
- Story line: Qais and Laila long to be with each other despite parental opposition
As much as one resists looking at a film as two halves, it is inevitable to compare the first and the second half with Laila Majnu. At the start, you have Laila being wooed by an affluent Qais, while she fights off a spate of roadside Romeos. An ardent admirer of Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), she wants a Bollywood romance, and the filmmaker gives her just that. From their discreet love to parental opposition, the narrative unwaveringly sticks to a tried-and-tested narrative formula, making you forget there is more to the classic than the trite and soapy courtship. It’s as much a story about lunacy and melancholy as it is about longing and desire, and it’s the second half that reminds you that.
Layla and Majnun — the “virgin love”, where the two neither marry nor consummate their affair — can best, if not only, be told through melodrama. I’m not confident about realism doing justice to the innate exaggeration and passion of this tale, but the problem with the first half is that it neither commits to melodrama nor realism. It is stuck in an awkward limbo. But the second half of the film, with right dollops of exaggeration, soulful melodies and acting skills, elicits the right amount of melodrama. Qais’ mental deterioration is evocative and unfettered, which makes you deeply empathetic towards him. Majnu’s poetic descent into madness is briefly explained as depression in Qais, owing to its modern telling, but the film quickly goes down the road of fantasy, mania and obsession, which works in its favour. Tiwary is in full control of his character’s insanity, unlike Dimri, who appears too self conscious. Sometimes it’s best to let go and allow a cornucopia of passion to take over, and in the case of Laila Majnu, it’s better late than never.