Undooming Laila Majnu!



Revisiting this film after a very long time I found myself becoming something of a fan where earlier I had less taste for it. This is once more an example of a richer Bombay film tradition where the greater ‘good’ of social inclusiveness was frequently married to a progressive politics. Even if this last gesture was often quasi-utopian the cogency of the same can hardly be underestimated in a nation-state with as many fault-lines of identity as India and where the resulting politics has often led to tragic consequences. The Manmohan Desai worldview to use a certain shorthand is enormously valuable not only because of its idealistic and sometimes near-visionary elements but also for the testament it offers to various vitally syncretistic strains of Indian cultural life. Shakespeare-like to this degree the tradition so often represented by the masala ‘super-genre’ (but also evident in other ways) offered a very intoxicating mix of the high and low and the influence of seemingly disparate strands of cinematic and culture influence. Rather than simply being a pastiche effort that aimed to please all of its audiences (though it was certainly this as well much as Shakespeare too was trying to create blockbuster entertainers all the time!) these choices reflected the very clear goal of re-imagining a better nation-state on the bedrock of various notions of emancipation. Laila Majnu in the very same sense invokes an impressive variety of cultural registers. The film itself seems to follow the Romeo and Juliet narrative more than anything else (another nod to Shakespeare whose influence on Indian commercial cinema by way of various street theater traditions and of course some of the writers of the films remains to be documented) but in doing so there is a somewhat restrained masala framework at hand. The mix of classes, the comic interludes, the constant shifts from high drama to lyrical romance but also in the same sense a variety of aesthetic standards from Hollywood Oriental exotica represented in the sets and perhaps even the garish costumes to more indigenous North Indian perspectives on poetry, feminine beauty and the erotic. Equally a mythic framework that not only references the source material but also ‘contaminates’ it with more ‘Indic’ elements. Laila Majnu represents a great popular model of ‘Indo-Islam’ (as the theorists would have it) and in the world of this film everyone is counted (including among the actors Danny who provides a certain Central Asian ‘ethnic’ twist to this Thousand and One Nights entertainment!). Or almost everyone. Desai’s world was more capacious and even more universal than this but this is no knock on Laila Majnu.

Finally the film also avoids the old ‘Muslim social’ paradigm of the ghettoized Muslim or the fantasy of the cloistered minority community able to engage in all sorts of fetishistic activity always barred to the majority! The Pakeezah view of the world! To be sure there is some Arabian Nights harem fantasy in play in the way the film’s interiors are designed but this is rather harmless within the contexts and again represents little more than Hollywood borrowing (without the politics of the latter).


A bit of a postscript on Rishi Kapoor — a pleasure to watch anywhere in the 70s for his naturalness and fluidity and very much important to this venture far more than the somewhat insipid Ranjeeta Kaur (though having said that this was her most appropriate outing!). The later tragic portions of the film somewhat muzzle these qualities (Rishi’s greatest gifts were always least in evidence at the most dramatic end of the spectrum) but he works like a charm in the first half. An actor who deserved better opportunities than he got but always a very welcome, endearing presence.

58 Responses to “Undooming Laila Majnu!”

  1. Alex adams Says:

    “Revisiting this film after a very long time I found myself becoming something of a fan where earlier I had less taste for it”
    Satyam I’m glad u write this yourselves

    Not sure exact details but there was a discussion with u
    Bout ‘non age related maturity’, and knack of certain things
    Think somewhere u were trashing the ethos of devdas etc

    I had told u that I felt similarly few years back
    But not now
    I’m sure u will be writing a similar post bout devdas sometime soon
    🙂

    Like

  2. Great piece and love the post script.
    Devdas ( the new one ) has nothing in common with this. Not that the old one was much better.

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  3. Will save this for later but I hope we don’t get a follow up piece about how you’ve become a fan of Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke after all these years. 🙂

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  4. Good one Satyam .. I am fan of its music, not seen movie yet though.

    Have u written any piece on Coolie ?? Would love to see your review on it ..

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  5. Great great read — I don’t think I’ve ever seen the film.

    Money quote: “The Manmohan Desai worldview to use a certain shorthand is enormously valuable not only because of its idealistic and sometimes near-visionary elements but also for the testament it offers to various vitally syncretistic strains of Indian cultural life. Shakespeare-like to this degree the tradition so often represented by the masala ‘super-genre’ (but also evident in other ways) offered a very intoxicating mix of the high and low and the influence of seemingly disparate strands of cinematic and culture influence. Rather than simply being a pastiche effort that aimed to please all of its audiences … these choices reflected the very clear goal of re-imagining a better nation-state on the bedrock of various notions of emancipation.”

    This by the way is the crucial distinction between this sort of masala and what we see in the likes of Singham (where there is nothing emancipatory, it simply panders to lumpen populism, however satisfying the film might be) or Dabangg (where the masala element is presented as tongue-in-cheek, but that irreverence in fact ends up de-fanging any critique of the lumpen aspects; the humor of the latter inoculates them from critique)…

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  6. Great going Satyam – I doubt if I’ve ever come across anyone who’s as passionate about cinema as you are.

    Have you ever considered directing a film? Or probably getting a book on cinema published?

    Like

  7. I like the title of the post. 🙂
    Rishi Kapoor made a great Majnu.

    There was another attempt at making a film about Laila and Majnu earlier on by K Asif with Guru Dutt as Majnu, and Nimmi as Laila. His death resulted in Sanjeev Kumar getting to be Majnu, but had to be shelved when K Asif himself died.

    It could have been a film as iconic as Mughal e azam.

    Here is a scene from it.

    I love the Muslim Socials and consider them as entertaining and as interesting as ‘Masala’ films, which too don’t really deal in reality.
    In fact I would say these are ‘muslim social masala’.
    A great great pity the industry has moved west.

    Like

  8. A beautiful analysis Satyam. I haven’t seen this film ever in its entirety, never suited my taste-buds earlier but may see it now(always found rishi a pale shadow of his brother shashi in those great masala films).by the way ‘laila majnu’ is one of the oft-talked abt films in the place where i come from(i.e. the interiors of north india, especially famous in the awadh region obviously due to its religious context). regarding fllms of manmohan desai, i have always had a particular liking for Toofan(though directed by his son). I loved the entire Houdini-act they do and loved bacchan’s local Hawk-eye avatar with that cool crossbow(the movie was goofy but real fun)
    I have always that in portraying superman kind of roles, bachchan was even better than hritik. i mean his shehenshah and toofan(my favourite being ajooba, the first ever film i remember seeing on vhs) roles desrved better scripts and directorial treatments. would like to know ur views on this topic

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    • thanks for this nice note… I too find Toofan quite enjoyable. Completely agree that these films needed better scripts. Shahenshah especially was quite thin.

      On the rest I’d easily take Rishi over Shashi but the latter too was a very pleasing presence.

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      • IMO Shahenshah was very tight scripted movie from start to finish .. every dialogue, every scene was superb .. specially the culmination part … last 20 minutes were dynamite.

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        • Shahenshah is my fav movie for many reasons .. first it was very entertaining, second dialogues, third music, fourth performances .. And top reason is that none other than Amitabh in entire bollywood till date can claim that he can carry that role with similar effectiveness .. Amitabh as shahenshah was Dynamite on screen and absolute irreplaceable (though there are many such irreplaceable roles).

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      • haha, i thought all along i was nuts for liking “toofan”! that movie was hella entertaining. bachchan was very intense as the titular character. the late goga kapoor was quite scary as shaitan singh

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  9. And i tried posting two comments in ur ‘bol bachchan’ thread but to my dismay, i found out that they could not be posted

    Like

  10. was watching a clip on MadanMohan few days back .His son – was mentioning how frustrated he was due to a failing career and non recognition. Ironically Madan Mohan did not live to see the sucess of his music in this movie

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  11. This post brings to mind Tawaif – another Muslim social which again was quite enjoyable and starred the ever reliable Rishi.

    Like

  12. Alex adams Says:

    Don’t have much idea/ experience of ‘Muslim socials’.

    Anyhow -going by the theme of the topic
    Feel sympathetic for poor SRk
    He must be secretly thinking-why allow aamir and saif but not me???
    Haha folks -can’t he follow suit ? After all allowed in his religion
    Or is he too much of a ‘nice guy’?
    What say Srk fans like oldgold
    Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s wife Gauri Khan is now on a mission to rescue her husband.

    Be it from all sorts of viruses or from the clutch of ‘another woman’.

    The cast and crew of ‘Don – The King is back’ were present at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival to premiere their film internationally.

    Shah Rukh who was unwell delayed his plan to attend the event and missed the press conference also.

    However, co-star Priyanka Chopra and producers Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani who reached Berlin ahead of SRK, addressed the media.

    Shah Rukh was determined to be present at Berlin for his fans and for his movie.

    After all sorts of illness and cancellation of flight SRK somehow managed to reach Berlin.

    But SRK was not alone. Wife Gauri Khan was with him as he walked the red carpet.

    After all the rumours of ‘great friendship’ and romance between Priyanka and Shah Rukh, Gauri could not take a chance to let the two be alone in some far of country.

    The wife looked smart in a red dress, looking ever youthful and ‘fighting’ fit, giving tough competition to a white saree clad Priyanka Chopra.

    Well how could Gauri let her ailing husband travel alone?  She had to be there to take care of her darling husband in the extraordinarily cold Berlin weather.

    Poor Priyanka walked the red carpet all alone. This snub comes amidst frequent reports in the media of a torrid affair between Priyanka and Shah Rukh Khan.

    During the entire event the only time the two were seen together was on stage after the ‘Don 2’ screening.

    After all the obligations of team ‘Don’ in the festival was over, Priyanka went to Los Angeles to attend the Grammys and Gauri brought back SRK home – safe and secure.

    Like

  13. Alex adams Says:

    Another LOL one
    By the way-is this another modern day ‘laila majnoo’ or does Srk lack guts or is he a ‘good guy’ or err, is after all a ‘gay’
    Leave it open to folks
    What do u think oldgold
    U should support Srk thru ‘thick’& ‘thin’
    Don’t desert him now 🙂

    Shahrukh Khan’s recent habit of ignoring Priyanka Chopra in public has some wondering whether his actions are more than just a reaction to his wife’s demands that he not see Priyanka. Is it possible that Shahrukh has decided to give up the scandalous affair altogether?

    That would seem to be the case given the events of the previous week. Shahrukh and Priyanka went from cuddling in corners at parties, engaging in 3 a.m. trysts in SRK’s office, and happily hosting awards shows together to being downright icy towards each other. Could that be a sign that the self-proclaimed best friends aren’t seeing each other anymore? More precisely, since the cold behavior seems to be coming mostly from Shahrukh Khan, could it be that SRK dumped Priyanka?

    Let’s examine the evidence: Shahrukh and Priyanka were scheduled to appear at the Berlin International Film Festival for a screening of their film Don 2. Rather than jet off cozily with Priyanka, Shahrukh instead complained of feeling ill and gave some indication of not being able to attend the event at all. So Priyanka and Don 2 director Farhan Akhtar were off to Berlin, with Shahrukh showing up at just the last minute, accompanied by his wife Gauri Khan.

    Priyanka walked the red carpet alone, and Shahrukh went arm-in-arm (or should we say claw in arm, as you never saw a woman with a tighter grip on her man than Gauri in Berlin) with his wife. And when the team went up on stage at the screening event Shahrukh made sure to stand well apart from Priyanka.

    Priyanka then darted across the Atlantic to attend the Grammy Awards, while presumably Shahrukh spent the weekend getting an ultimatum from the wife. After all, it only makes sense that Gauri demand Shahrukh stop seeing Priyanka—PC is already banned from social events where Gauri or her cadre of star wives are invited; it’s not a stretch to assume Gauri would take it one step further and simply put her foot down about the affair altogether. She’s not a weak woman, and likely doesn’t take kindly to her family’s reputation being ruined by rumors.

    Shahrukh Khan has incentive for putting an end to the affair besides his wife demanding it: the rumors have already done severe damage to Priyanka Chopra’s career. If she and Shahrukh are really so close that they consider themselves best friends, then the noble thing for Shahrukh to do would be to do his part in keeping Priyanka’s career from being completely destroyed.

    Then again, it’s also possible that the two have simply grown wary of the media scrutiny their affair has inspired and have decided to play it cool for a while. Either way, Priyanka stands to benefit by appearing to have ended her relationship with SRK. And Shahrukh will make his wife very happy by appearing to have kicked PC to the curb.

    And after all, in show business, aren’t appearances everything?

    Like

    • What’s your agenda here, Alex?
      Why do you keep refering to ‘religion’ here?
      This whole thing had come up in another thread just about a month ago, so I really don’t see your point.

      Divorcing and remarrying is ever popular in the industry.
      The aging heroines, regardless of so called ‘female sexual liberation’ let the men have their cake and eat it too – muslims, hindus and what have you.
      Examples;
      Boney Kapoor, Anurag Kashyp, Amir, Saif, Dharmender, Javed Akhtar, etc etc
      Some men had affairs but didn’t leave their wives – Amitabh, and mostly every other actor. I believe Amir was having affairs before his wife left him.
      Perhaps SRK belongs to this category and won’t break his home?

      The only decently married heroines who didn’t break a home are Madhuri and Aishwarya.

      So I think you should finally give up whatever aganda you have with your repeated comments about – ‘their religion allows it’ when you have seen that in spite of religion allowing it there has been a divorce before remarrying.

      As *already* pointed out in the other thread, the only two men one can think of who used this ‘allowedness’ was a hindu – Dharmender, and Salim Khan (he has made up for Salman, not married even once 😉

      Like

      • >then the noble thing for Shahrukh to do would be to do his part in keeping Priyanka’s career from being completely destroyed.

        What nobility have *anyone* having affairs ever shown?
        Why single out and challenge SRK? Is Priyanka some naive simpleton?

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        • In fact if Priyanka’s professional life is suffering then serves her right for causing pain to another woman.
          If SRK comes out scot free then like other men he has had his cake and ate it too, thus proving – *only* when it comes to bikins/kisses/bedroom scenes does it apparently look that film industry has come of age (though this has never been my measuring yard), and that ‘male’ supremetiy is alive and kicking.

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          • oops, read it as ‘supremacy’.
            What a stupid mistake!!! Just when I wanted to sound ‘robdar’!!
            😀

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        • Alex adams Says:

          “Is Priyanka some naive simpleton?”
          Haha
          Agree

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        • Alex adams Says:

          “What nobility have *anyone* having affairs ever shown?”
          Good point Oldgold
          U seem to be talkin from personal experience
          Caught ya 😉

          Like

  14. Alex adams Says:

    Very good defence here oldgold
    As expected 🙂
    R u a lawyer ha
    Good points there though-
    Must say that u have becum a sensible Srk fan now
    I deserve some credit for ‘reforming’ u
    C’mon give me some credit plz 🙂
    Btw There is no ‘agenda’ there
    Inthe case of dharmendra , he HAD to ‘convert’ etc-As u rightly pointed out
    My point is-Srk doesn’t even need that
    He already have ‘sanction’
    So why this ‘hesitancy’
    I’m just playing the ‘devils’ advocate here
    What do u think is stopping him
    Is he too much o a ‘good’ guy -(I think so.. 😉
    Or does he lack ‘guts’ hahaha

    Like

    • Most men (which I cannot say for Dharmender. Salim Khan at least did it to give shelter and support to a much troubled and penniless Helen who would have ended on the streets) – don’t do that – because the wife will not accept it.

      >I’m just playing the ‘devils’ advocate here

      I don’t think so. I feel that subconciously you are excessively *envious* of muslim men having this possibility 😉 that’s why you keep on and on and on and on an………………………. about it.

      Like

  15. Alex adams Says:

    Oops Oldgold seems in top killer form today 🙂
    What hav hav u today, Oldgold?

    “Must say that u have becum a sensible Srk fan now
    I deserve some credit for ‘reforming’ u
    C’mon give me some credit plz ”
    I usually charge for these services. For u, it was free lol
    Cum on, thank me in some way 🙂

    Like

  16. Alex adams Says:

    Typo-What hav u *eaten* today? Oldgold
    Before I get wrong ideas lol

    Like

  17. Alex adams Says:

    Since u have been a bright girl today Oldgold
    An SRK scene for u -enjoy
    Check out the way he ‘names’ this guy
    If u have seen kal ho na ho-what are your views on it

    Also this reminds me of the ‘ramdayal’ of the likes of Amy , Oldgold and even Di this v-day …
    ROTFLOL
    Before I get attacked, time to scoot for some more ‘work’
    Enjoy

    Like

  18. Should also add that this was a hugely successful film at the time.

    Like

  19. Great piece Satyam… remeber watching Laila Majnu when I was may be in 4th or 5th grade and falling in Love with Ranjeeta….
    The songs and the movie was a huge hit specially in interiors of UP….
    at that time movies like Hatim Tai, Laila Majnu, Toofaan were doing pretty well….

    Like

  20. This begs for a new Sidebar with Rishi kapooer with his various Heronies ………….Dharam Garram ab thande ho gaye…..LOL

    Like

  21. Laila Majnu was I believe first movie where they has two songs with no break in between….

    Like

    • salimjakhra Says:

      How about Mughal-e-Azam where straight after ‘Yeh Dil Ki Lagi Kam Kya Hogi’ they had ‘Khuda Nigahebaaz Ho Tumhaara’.

      Thanks for the video – watched half at work, will finish the rest during my shift tmw!

      Like

  22. alex adams Says:

    “Laila Majnu was I believe first movie where they has two songs with no break in between….”
    ‘rock’y-correct me if im wrong since not sure
    but in guide–there was a two song combo together
    without a break..
    maybe sally or some1 can confirm if my hunch is rite

    Like

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