Leila Majnu 1950

The tale of the star-crossed lovers Leila and Majnu is known for many centuries, and owes its origin to the famous Persian poet Nizami Ghanzavi's classic true story which took place a long time ago in today's Iraq. Expectedly, the story became internationally renowned, and with the Islamic connections that reached the Indian subcontinent many centuries ago, it has been written by several writers in Urdu and Hindi. Interestingly, it has many common elements with the tragic love tale of Shakespeare's classic drama ‘Romeo and Juliet' and the Tamil story of Ambikapathi and his love for the Chola princess.

It is, therefore, not surprising that this classic story soon found its way to theatre and later silent cinema and has been made and remade several times in several languages. It was first made as a silent film in 1922 by J. J. Madan and again in 1927 by Manilal Joshi. Noted filmmaker Kanjibhai Rathod made it in Hindi in 1931 as soon as cinema began to speak in India in 1931 with the historic Alam Ara .

J. J. Madan remade it in Hindi in 1931. In 1936, it was produced by East India Pictures in Persian, one of the few films to have been made in India in that language, a fact not known to many. In 1940, Dharmaveer Singh made the same story in Punjabi, and in 1941, a version in the Pushtu language by Sarnad Pictures surfaced. Pushtu is a language spoken in the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent.

Then came the box office hit in 1945 in Hindi featuring famous actor Swaran Lata as Leila and Nazir Ahmed as Majnu (the two married and migrated to Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. It was in this film the iconic Hindi movie singer Mohammed Rafi made his debut and appeared uncredited in a scene!). One of her mega hits was the musical extravaganza, Rattan (1944), which made composer Naushad Ali a cult figure and an icon of Hindi Cinema.

In 1949, the multilingual star and creative artiste P. Bhanumathi and her husband, editor and director P. S. Ramakrishna made the story in Telugu and dubbed it into Tamil. It was again made in 1953, 1976 (in Hindi and Bengali), and later in 1982. This amply proves the undying popularity of the tale of the doomed lovers.

The Tamil version under discussion was directed by noted art director and filmmaker and studio owner F. Nagoor and had the singing star of the day Mahalingam as the lovelorn young man and the multilingual actor Rajamma as Leila.

The film had an excellent cast with veterans such as Balasubramaniam, Sahasranamam and Krishnan-Mathuram. The music was scored by the sadly underrated composer S. V. Venkataraman. It was produced by Balaji Pictures and shot at Newtone Studios promoted by Nagoor and his friends, and bankrolled by M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. Despite its star cast and other features, this version did not do well.

Remembered for: the interesting on-screen narration and performances by Rajamma and Mahalingam.

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